New Year, New Routines

I teach at a residential high school for gifted young artists. They leave their homes, their former high schools, and their friends and travel to Winston-Salem NC where we have the pleasure of teaching some of the most talented young dancers, musicians, vocalists, drama performers, and visual artists from all around North Carolina and the United States. In addition to a full academic work load (the usual math, science, history, and English classes from any other high school) my students have the added responsibility of taking a rigorous college-level art classes alongside their peers from the University and Graduate programs here on campus. They have a lot on their plate.

This year I teach standard Algebra 2, Advanced Functions and Modeling (an alternative to PreCalculus for students not looking to go onto AP Calculus), and this year I have a PreCalculus (but won’t next year). Last year I only had Algebra 2 and AFM, and I noticed a hesitation among my students to put them selves out there mathematically. The classes I teach tend to have the more mathematically fearful students in them: the 11th and 12th graders in Algebra 2, students with lower math averages in previous classes, and a fair amount of mathematical baggage from their previous high schools. Every year I have them write a math bio. An account of what they remember liking/disliking in their math career, what they are amazing at, what scares them, what they are most concerned about with math this year. It gives me a lot of insight into the teenage minds:

“I have always been bad at math and have never felt like a teacher really cared enough to explain it to me.”

” Math has never made sense to me.”

So I have a lot of mathematical damage to repair. I have two goals for myself this year in my classes, in order:

  1. To increase students engagement in and willingness to try mathematical tasks.
  2. To teach the material in a way that students retain the information.

Goal 1: to increase student engagement in and willingness to try mathematical tasks.

So, to work towards this goal I introduced the “non math” warm up. Thanks to the #MTBoS tweeps I have stolen borrowed some great warm ups with a focus on critical thinking, math talk, and problem solving.

  • Every Friday we play Set.Today's Daily Set 9/11/15 A mathematical card game available online (I take a screen shot) in which you need to identify a set of 3 cards in which the characteristics of the shapes are either all the same or all different. Today the first two sets my first period AFM found were the grey set (all the same color, all different numbers, all the same shading, all the same shape) followed by the yellow set (all the same color and number, different shadings and shape). It took 4 weeks for them to 100% get the hang of it, but I love the culture it is forming in the room. Kids are talking to each other before putting their guesses out there for the whole class to critique. We are having constructive criticism of “wrong” sets and helping their peers adjust a set selection to then have a “correct” response. Its also a lot of fun to see them enjoying my favorite nerdy math game!
  • Which One Doesn’t Belong? WODB?I had the pleasure of meeting Mary Bourassa this summer at Anja S Greer Math Conference up in Exeter, New Hampshire. I fell in love with the simplicity of the task and the multiple entry points for students. We are starting off the year with the shapes and numbers categories and will move into the function options as we move through the year. My favorite WODB is to the right. In my lower level classes students found differences with the shapes of the letters, “K is the only pointy line segment one” or “P is the only one without a lower half.” Not ground breaking, but still awesome. Then my upper level PreCal students took the floor with “K is the only one that doesn’t end in a eee sound. Pee, Bee, Dee, Kay.” Oh man, now we’re getting deep. “B is the only even numbered letter. Like if you assign the letters numbers 1-26, K is 15, P is 23, B is 2, and D is 5.” I had a huge grin on my face for the rest of the period because I didn’t even go that deep with the warm up when I was playing along. I love it!
  • Because I teach a students with very strong passions and opinions (which I adore) they have the  most fun/arguing potential with Would You Rather… A picture prompt that has students building an argument (mathematical or not) for why they would prefer to do option A over option B. We have started the year out with allowing for non-math answers like “80 bars of soap would fit in my book bag but 30 towels totally would not.” But we will move into the more mathematically based opinions as we progress through the year.
  • Then I also pick a random problem from 1001 Problems to work on visual problem solving. Hole PunchOut favorite from the year has been the Hole Punch Problem. If you make the indicated blue folds, then use a one hole punch on the indicated black dot, what will the unfolded paper hole pattern look like. This was a great experience for my kids visualizing the number of layers in the paper underneath the hole punch. Some even got out scrap paper and were poking holes in it with their pencil.

Goal 2: To teach the material in a way that students retain the information.

I wish I could say I have found the silver bullet for this problem, but I’m typing this blog while one of my classes takes a test, and I can tell by facial expressions alone we’re not there yet. Either way–the things I have changed this year:

  • I will always, ALWAYS, post answers to HW assignments the night they are due on Blackboard with the understanding that students will check HW answers prior to arriving in class (I never give more than 5-10 problems) so that we can spend a few minutes post-warm-up to fix any issues/concerns they have. My hope is that this allows students to catch “silly” mistakes and we can spend time focusing on the real underlying issues/tricky problems from the night.
  • In Algebra 2 I am testing out a hybrid of Guided Notes, a system I have used for most of my teaching career as I find that it allows for more time to work example problems if the students aren’t writing so much, with Interactive Notes. I have been following Sarah Hagan‘s blog and twitter (@mathequalslove) for a few years and have been meaning to try her interactive notebook idea but never had the motivation until this year. The students so far seem to enjoy them, but we are still working on convincing students to use their notes as a primary resource for helping them through an in class assignment–rather than asking me first. It is a process, so I will keep you all updated. This is definitely my work in progress project for the year. Learning as I go.
  • Increase the number of labs/hands on activities that I do in each unit. I am making time for 2 labs per unit so that students can connect what we are learning with applications and trying to work in more manipulative activities.