Saturday, May 26, 2018

Puzzle Place and other Ponderings

Disclaimer:  This post might be somewhat of a ramble - sorry about that!

Back in December, as part of #MTBoS12Days, I used the prompt "Something I want to Try" as share about wanting to try a puzzle / play table in my classroom this spring as inspired by MTBoS, but I've not really reported much on it other than in a few #MyFavFriday posts!

This Year:

When we came back to school in January, I had set up a small area on top of my filing cabinet with a "puzzle place".  I also realized today that I REALLY need to take an updated picture, because the picture at the left is what it looked like in January, but not quite what it looks like now! :)  Oh well...

Each Monday, I put out a new puzzle, often printed straight from @mathequalslove's blog or elsewhere on the internet.  I store all of these puzzles in a binder with the cut out pieces and instructions.  On the wall of the "puzzle place", I've put a sheet protector to hold a copy of the instructions each week with the puzzle actually on the filing cabinet.  In addition to the puzzles I've printed, I've also found various puzzles at thrift stores, dollar stores, and even used the "Cracker Barrel" triangle puzzle one week!

One of my Geometry classes has REALLY enjoyed the puzzle table and it's not uncommon to see them steal the puzzle to take back to their seats.  The star puzzle in the right picture came from Dollar Tree and was one of the most popular ones this year!  It's been really fun to watch my students' reactions each week.  In fact, each Monday, my student aid immediately goes to the puzzle place to see if he can figure out that week's puzzle.  :)

Random Ponderings about the Future...
It's not official, but I am pretty sure that I will be teaching Geometry again next year, so I gave a feedback survey to my students yesterday to ask them what to Start / Stop / Continue.  I was pleasantly surprised at the number of students that mentioned how much they enjoyed Mental Math Monday, puzzles, games, and almost all of the "Start" comments were about doing MORE of this type of activity.

As a result of this feedback, I decided last night to re-join NCTM so that I would have access to their archive of Mathematics Teacher Calendars, which often have GREAT geometry and logic/brain teaser puzzles, such as this one from 1994:

I had already written on my "next year" list to do more puzzles from @1to9Puzzle, but now I'm trying to figure out how to best incorporate this student request in my classes...

Here are my current thoughts:
  • Daily Warmups - I know several students mentioned Mental Math Mondays, which is an adaptation of the 24 puzzle where I use one of the 24 cards and challenge the students to write expressions to equal ALL of the numbers 1-24.  This was a great way to get our brains moving on Mondays.  I could expand this idea to have a different type of puzzle / question each day.  I've also thought about trying Number Talks with my students, so that could be part of it too?
  • Weekly Challanges / Hallway Puzzles - I still really like this idea from Sara Vanderwref's blog on put math-y puzzles out in the hallway each week.  When I taught Geometry about 10 years ago, I would put up a weekly challenge in my classroom with a math-y puzzle for them to solve and submit their answer for a drawing.  I like the hallway idea a lot, but part of me wants to keep it in my classroom to help promote that sense of playing with math with my own students.

In addition to all of this, my first #EduRead book of the summer has been Tracy Zagar's 'Becoming the Math Teacher You Wish You'd Had" an it has really sparked a desire to have my kids explore and play with math more.  I want to promote that feeling of being a mathematician instead of being in math class.

The cherry on top was a blog post I ran across this morning from Math With Bad Drawings about The State of Being Stuck.  I find it really interesting to observe the willingness of students to be stuck on a puzzle / brain teaser but NOT willing to be stuck on a "math problem".  

How do we promote this sense of accomplishment and to help our students see themselves as problem solvers rather than pencil pushers?

Monday, May 21, 2018

Reflecting on my 2017-18 Goals

Back in early August, I posted a few goals for the 2017-18 school year and with only 2 weeks left in the year, it's time to reflect on my successes and setbacks.

Things I wanted to start:

  • Using Vertical Non-Permanent Surfaces - I still have work to do on this one, but overall I am pleased with my usage of VNPS.  Last summer, I moved around some things in my room to open up all of my whiteboards for student use as well as having my father-in-law cut some large boards out of shower board for me.  I did not use them as well as I could have in AP Stat, but I LOVED using whiteboards in Geometry.  I ended up not using the big boards as much as I thought I would and instead focused on using individual whiteboards.  Having these whiteboards available at ALL times really was a game changer for my classroom.
  • Asking Better Questions - Umm, yeah, I'll take the big L on this one as it is still on my "I need to try that" list.  I need to focus more on this in my summer reading, so shoot me any suggestions you have!  
  • Being More Involved in the MTBoS - I haven't been quite as involved in Twitter as I would like, but I am pleased to report that I have blogged over 40 times this school year, which is a HUGE accomplishment for me!  

Things I wanted to stop:
  • Rescuing my students - I would like to say this was a success, but it wasn't.  With the use of whiteboarding, it was easier to monitor my students and watch their productive struggle, but I need to work on this - A LOT!  I don't even know where to begin to be honest... so many of my students would rather sit and stare at a blank page than even attempt a problem, even if it is the exact same problem as an example.  How do I move past this so we can tackle the rich problems that I really want to tackle?
  • Eating lunch in my room - Yeah, another L for me.  My lunch period is with my plan period, so I often forego lunch to work in my room.  I have made it down to the lounge more this year than last year, even if it was just to get coffee :)

Things I wanted to continue:
  • Formative Assessment - I think FA is one of those goals that can never be fully met, but I was able to add several new strategies to my toolkit and I tried to focus on "What did I teach? What did they learn?" as a daily mantra.  This summer, I will continue to work on fine-tuning these strategies as I am supposed to present about FA to our new district staff in August.
  • Personal Health - I've had a few setbacks due to poor eating habits, BUT, I met my 2017 exercise goal with #fitbos17 and I have met EVERY monthly goal so far in 2018!  Even during the yucky cold winter months, I still pushed myself to get out and exercise - mainly because of my "boyfriend" :)  (This is a joke from hubby - I have an 81 year old neighbor man that I met last summer while he was walking his dog, his wife had just been placed in a nursing facility at the time and he was lonely for conversation.  Now, it's one of the highlights of my day!)
  • High Five Fridays - This continues to be one of my favorite ways to connect with my students.  I even have students in the hallway that aren't in my classes giving me high fives or telling me "Happy Friday!"  On my end-of-year survey, a few of the students mentioned how much they looked forward to Fridays just for the High Five.  

Overall, I'm pleased with the progress I made this year.  For 20 years, I have struggled with balancing my personal and professional life and I think I found a good balance this year.  I'm still a "work in progress" and I have things to work on for next year, but to be honest, when the time comes that I no longer thing I have room to grow, then it's time for me to retire / leave the profession.

Many thanks to my students this year that helped me grow, pushed me to try new things, and put up with my craziness when things didn't go as planned.  I couldn't ask for a better group of kiddos to work with every day :)  

Sunday, May 20, 2018

#MyFavFriday - Winding down

I contemplated skipping this week's #MyFavFriday but there are definitely a few things I want to remember, so I am just posting a few days later than normal :)

This was a busy week.  The AP Exam has come and gone.  The questions were released yesterday and while they aren't my favorite set ever, they are very fair and doable.  In fact, there's a couple of questions that I am beating myself up about that I never thought of asking the question that way!  In 3 weeks, I'll be heading to KC to help grade thousands of papers and I'm curious what things will be required for each one.

My Favorite Classroom Addition:
Over Winter Break, inspired by a few bloggers in the MTBoS, I decided to add a Puzzle Corner to my classroom.  This has been one of the best things I've ever done and I highly encourage you to try it yourself!

Thanks to resources from @mathequalslove and various goodies I've found along the way, I have enough puzzles to put out a new one each week.  This week was a wooden star puzzle from Dollar Tree and I think it was the most popular one yet!  I can't count the number of students who took the puzzle back to their seats to give it a try. :)

This is a change that I'm so glad I tried and I can't wait to continue it next year!  I know my summer will be full of puzzle hunting! :)

My Favorite Quick Review Strategy:
Our last class day before the AP Exam was a block day.  I know I could have lectured at them for 110 minutes about all they needed to remember, but instead, I decided to do several short activities.  After some housekeeping details of where to go, when to be there, and what to take (and NOT to take), it was time to do some review.

One of my favorite short activities to get them up and moving is "Find Someone Who".  Here, they had 19 items where they had to find a classmate that could tell them the answer to the question.  For example, "Find someone who can tell you the conditions necessary for a 1 sample T Test" or "Find someone who can interpret the value of r2 in context".  I love these short vocabulary based activities, plus, I get to play along too! :)

My Favorite After Exam Treat:
For the past few years, our exam has been on Thursday afternoon, so on Friday, we celebrate a job well done by playing games and having some treats.

In addition to celebrating our accomplishment, this is also a time to celebrate their upcoming graduation, so I buy each class a cookie cake and have it decorated with some statistical words of wisdom.  In case you don't read statistical work, this year's cookie said "Don't be normal, be an outlier"

It's been a good year and I'll be sad to see this year's group of seniors go, but I know that each of them will move on to bigger and better things.  I'm so humbled that I had a chance to be a small part of their high school journey.

My Favorite Relaxation Spot:
Once the AP Exam is over, it won't be long until summer is here for good.  That means it was finally time to go buy our "flower babies" and set up the backyard for summer time!

In the summer, I become a total hermit.  I get up and go for a walk before coming home and settling in on my patio with my coffee and a good book.  Even though we were just a few houses away from a very busy street, my backyard is this beautiful and peaceful oasis where I relax and unwind from the year and mentally / emotionally prepare for the next one.

I highly recommend that everyone have a peaceful place to go to unwind! :)

Friday, May 11, 2018

#MyFavFriday - Zooming by!

This week was weird....  It seems like Monday was f-o-r-e-v-e-r ago, but it also feels like I blinked and we're now to Friday again!

May has to be the toughest month of the year.  Warmer weather hits, senioritis kicks in, student absences skyrocket, and motivation is at an all-time low.  We still have 3 weeks left to go, but as long as I can make it through this weekend, I'm good!  We have a "Super STAT-urday" planned for tomorrow with review sessions and our last Mock exam, then comes the whirlwind of Mother's Day!  Somewhere along that path, I need to find the time to plan lessons, grade AP Review packets, write a quiz, pack goodie bags, and hopefully get some sleep :)

But before that can happen, let's recap the good things that happened this week! :)

My Favorite Teacher Appreciation Gift:
This week was Teacher Appreciation Week and I have to say, I felt VERY appreciated!  Every day, we were honored with a treat from our Student Council (candy bar, pop, cake, new pen, etc) plus on Wednesday, our admin assistant bought pizza for our building.  Then, during Advisory, each student wrote a note of appreciation which were delivered today and brought tears to my eyes.

But my absolute favorite gift came today from one of my Geometry students.  I was standing at the door giving High Fives when she comes up to give me a piece of candy.  I thanked her, but she was still digging in her bag.  When she looked up again, she handed me this beautiful ladybug necklace charm.  Sadly I didn't have on a necklace today, but it quickly found a home on my lanyard!  The best part is that she has a matching charm and I had commented on it last week, not knowing that she had one for me too! :)

My Favorite Review Techniques:
I have taught AP Stat for 18 years and I am pretty sure that I have tried 18 different review methods!

However, this year, I might have stumbled on something I really like....

Each day, they start class with a "Skills Check", which is a quarter sized sheet of paper with quick must-knows.  From there, we briefly talk about our AP Tip of the Day, then one of the groups presents their "One Sheet", which is a big poster sized "cheat sheet" of one of the AP Topics.  For the last 40 minutes or so of class, the students work on a Free Response packet of 4 questions from that day's topic.  Their goal is to do as much as possible, trying to maximize their time / score.  Each day these papers are turned in, I read and respond to every single one, and then type up a commentary of common errors, tips, hints and condensed solutions.  The bad part is the intense amount of grading, but I figure I can do anything for one week, right?  I am really hopeful that this strategy will pay off next week!!!

My Favorite Go-To Activity:
When all else fails, my go-to activity has to be a Question Stack.

In Geometry, we worked this week on angles and segments in circles.  In the past, students have struggled a lot on this because the diagrams look a lot alike.  Our notes for these sections were more "graphic organizer" style than I usually do, but it really seemed to help the students make connections. 

Today, it was time to mix them up!  I was worried that I wouldn't have time to create a Question Stack, but then it was KUTA to the rescue!  With the help of the "Snipping Tool" (which is definitely a "My Favorite"), I quickly put together a 12 question loop for today's practice.  I love that students who won't do a worksheet of 12 problems will immediately be engaged when presented the same problems as an activity such as this... :)

What were your favorite moments of the week?  

Until next time... Happy Friday!!! :)

Friday, May 4, 2018

#MyFavFriday - It's MAY!!! EKKK

Happy Star Wars Day!!! :)

I swear, May is both the fastest and slowest month of the year!  The time literally flies from May 1 until the AP exam, then slows to a crawl until the last day.

Due to the walkout, we had to add days to our year, so we have exactly one month left of school.  As each day goes by, I fluctuate between "I'm so ready for summer" and "I'm going to miss these kiddos so much!"  But until that last day comes, I am determined to enjoy every moment with my kiddos, so with that said, let's move on to this week's favorites...

My Favorite Forensics Lab:
This has been a GREAT week in Forensics.  We are smack dab in the middle of our Handwriting / Document Analysis unit, which I think the students have really enjoyed.  This unit has some of my favorite labs and activities and several of them happened to land this week!  First, on Monday, we had the 2nd day of a guest speaker on art forgery, where our students did some research on artists and then tried to determine the real vs the fake painting.  We followed that up with a Chromatography lab (see photo) where we explored the ink breakdown of various markers.  You know it's a "win" when you overhear several students exclaiming "This is my favorite thing we've done all year!".  To finish out the week, we looked at the document analysis part as it applies to counterfeiting.  I love the "ooohs and aaaahs" that happen when the students find the hidden micro-printing treasures on our paper money.  All it all, we had a GREAT week in Forensics!

My Favorite "A-ha" Moment:
As I was planning my Geometry lessons this week, I ran across the idea to have the students discover the inscribed arc / intercepted arc relationship, so I decided to try it.  I remembered that I had a set of "Safe-T Compasses" at home, but of course, I forgot them at home on the first day I needed them!  During my first class, I used old-school metal compasses and I quickly remembered the struggle with fine motor skills... :)  As soon as I got home that night, I put my Safe-T Compasses in my bag and it went SO much better on day 2!  We measured the central angle / arc, then drew in an inscribed angle to see the relationship.  We also looked at 2 angles with the same arc as well as the inscribed angle for a semi-circle.  Hopefully the hands-on aspect will pay off on the assessment :)

My Favorite New Review Strategy:
After 18 years of teaching AP Statistics, one might think that I have it all figured out - that person would be very wrong. :)  Every year, I struggle to figure out the best way to prepare my students for the exam and every year I wish I had tried something else.  I tried a few new things last year with success (Skills Checks and Flipcards) and with this year's walkout, I knew I would need to maximize the impact of the reduced review time.  On Wednesday, I ran across an idea that sparked a memory of reading about One Sheets at Julie R's blog and I knew I wanted to try it this year.  Yesterday I assigned each group to an AP topic and they created their One Sheet.  Today, we started Topic #1 with a group presentation over the One Sheet, then spent the rest of the hour working on Free Response problems.  I loved how the One Sheets turned out - the kids were required to go back and review content from the class, plus with the group presentations, they aren't listening to me talk AT them.... that's a WIN! :)

My Favorite Surprise of the Week:
This morning I received a message from a former student asking me if they could pop by during my lunch.  I've not seen this young lady since she graduated in 2012 and it was so good to sit and visit with her!  She shared a bit about her life since high school and we spoke at length about the time management skills needed when balancing a career and grad school.  It wasn't until after she left that I realized that even as busy as she is, she still took the time to reach out to me (and her other former teachers) prior to the walkout to see if she could do anything to support us, including coming up to clean our rooms or grade papers.  It really made me pause yet again to recognize how blessed I am by my students, current and former!

I hope all y'all have a great weekend - it's another marathon grading weekend for me as I work through Mock AP Exams... :)