Search results for: mathography

The Color Game

hundred yardsMotivating the students in my Problem Solving class – convincing them that they are capable of thinking critically and crafting solutions, and getting them to care about the quality of the work they submit – this is the challenge I face this term, a challenge with which I am familiar. I’ve been coming at this challenge since I began teaching – trying to motivate through classes in Personal Finance, Geometry, and now under the broad umbrella of problem-solving strategies. I really enjoy the students in these classes – the juxtapositions of attitude and self-deprecation, street smarts versus humble acceptance [sadly] of their mathematical deficits. These teenagers are honest – sometimes hilariously so, and, sometimes painfully. They are always interesting, and unpredictable.

by Sara

by Sara

Most of them don’t believe they can solve problems, and I face the dilemma of demonstrating solutions for them versus getting them to work independently. When I model, the students faithfully copy my work. When I toss the ball back to them, they stop. We use individual whiteboards, large vertical whiteboards around the room (I encourage the students to get up and work on the boards whenever they want), partners strategies, table work; my plan (read: my hope) is that eventually the most reluctant of students will become comfortable enough to dip their toe in the water. The problem sets I am using are well tiered, I think, and there will always be an entry point, somewhere, for everyone.


from Jeremy’s mathography

One of my first assignments of the year was a Mathography, an assignment I love to read. Again, these kids are honest. Unlike my ‘gifted’ students, they do not feel they need to present their best face, and the results are compelling. Sometimes they are just so sad, like Jeremy. And then there is Gabby, who admitted that the teacher she liked the least challenged her the most. There are big red flags that get raised. Rekindling this child’s faith in her education is a tall order, and I hope I am up to the task; I do believe that the beauty of the patterns in math can inspire the disenchanted.

Gabby and her nemesis

Gabby and her nemesis

It strikes me as I am writing this that perhaps I may have a staggering amount of chutzpah, thinking I can ‘save’ these students. But I don’t; I sort of despair at my own powerlessness to change anything. My class is 45 minutes out of a teenager’s day, when they leave my room, when they leave school, everything is more importantthan my math class. I would just like to give a student a sense that they are mathematically capable, that there is interest and value in solving a puzzling problem, just because. Many of these students are given repeated tacit messages that the only value of their high school education is the accumulation of credits required to achieve graduation in four years.   I would be thrilled if the experience they had in my classroom added a little “and yet…” to that message. I hope that doesn’t sound like too low an expectation for my students or me, because the effort can feel both Sisyphean and Herculean. (Sorry – I couldn’t help myself, former English major that I am.)

color gameThis isn’t at all what I meant to write about. I want to write about the Color Game we played today, the game that half the class wanted to ignore, only to end up shouting out answers, arguing with each other, hands shooting up the minute I gave clues. It’s a pretty simple game; I found it in the introduction to the Teacher’s Edition of Crossing the River with Dogs. Students need to prove the location of colored squares on a grid given minimal clues. They are only allowed to claim a square when they can justify that it can only be one color based on the information they have been given. At first, the kids wanted to guess my pattern and have me tell them whether it was correct, and many were annoyed that I wouldn’t consider their offerings. But one by one, they realized that ironclad proof was required, and we played as a whole class right up to the ringing of the bell.   Of course, they begged to play again – frequently and soon.

T-48 hours

It may not look like it, but the open space in this basement is a miracle.

Okay – Against all odds, and in the midst of total chaos before the demolition begins in my house on Tuesday, I think I am ready!!  I’ve planned the first two weeks,  and am getting pumped – mostly because of the wonderful ideas I’ve gleaned and incorporated from the great big MTBoS.  I hope that SOMETHING I do helps SOMEONE as much as everyone out there helps me.

In Algebra 2, there is a weird schedule during the first week, with some periods  very short, and some classes meeting on different days, so the sequencing of activities may vary.  But the overarching goal is by the end of the week (before the 4-day weekend!), the students have an idea of who I am as a teacher, and that the expectation in my classroom is that they will be thinking and talking about math, rather than being passive receptacles of direct instruction.

Day 1 will be spent gathering student information (names, pronouns, contact info, favorites), making Name Tents (an idea I borrowed from Rachel Rosales three years ago and haven’t tired of yet, and revealing some information about myself using Heather Kohn’s activity – Ms. Menard in Numbers.

On Day 2, after completing a number talk, answering the wonderful question “What is 99 plus anything?” (from the wonderful book Building Powerful Numeracy for Middle and High School Students), we will discuss Growth Mindset and watch this wonderful video from a math major talking about fear (essentially more growth mindset and ‘grit’).

Day 3 – Lots of fun stuff!  The students will sign up for Remind, learn about the Manatee Squish signal (thanks, Darryl!), and play Desmos Bingo, courtesy of Michael Fenton.  And I’ve got a back-up if the wi-fi is down; we will play the Real Numbers Game I used last year (sample lesson designed in grad school before I had any idea what I was doing!).


When we return after the Jewish New Year, we will jump into Polynomials, and I will begin my Hinge Questioning, as I have promised.

Then there is my Problem-Solving class, and I’ve got some great things planned here as well.

On Day 1, in 25 minute periods, the students will also complete information index cards.  I know many of these students (I suspect a whole bunch of them will be coming from last year’s Geometry classes), so they won’t be making Name Tents.  The students will going want to know what the course is about, so we will discuss the many and varied benefits of improving their problem-solving abilities, and then work on a simple problem.  I am debating whether to use the aforementioned “What is 99 plus anything?” number talk (I think this will set a good tone for the class – a simple, accessible question that can lead to interesting mathematical ideas) or the oft-linked Noah’s Ark activity from Fawn Nguyen.  Again, an accessible activity with a strong visual component – I think it will be good for many of the students in the class.

Day 2 – We will discuss mindset and watch the math major video in this class as well, and then dig into our first problem – 1-5-4-2-3.  This problem, from Peter Liljedahl was written about from my new compadre, Lisa Winer.

I know the cards will be an instant hook for these kids, and again, a low floor and a high ceiling make for intense engagement and debate.

On Day 3 the students will share the results of the 1-5-4-2-3 investigation, if we run out of time the day before.  We will go through some of the administrative stuff that I pushed off from Day 1 (I have these classes in the afternoon; there is nothing worse florida-manatee-kings-bay-615than being the 4th or 5th teacher to give out a course syllabus on the same day) – classroom contract, Remind sign-up, and once again, just for funsies, the gentle reminder of the Manatee Squish.  After we’ve gotten the business out of the way, I will introduce A Race Around the World, one of the gems I found on Peter Liljedahl‘s website.  I modified the activity slightly to fit my class.

Over the long weekend, I am going to have the students write a Mathography.  I haven’t used this assignment in a while, and I am looking forward to reading them.  It’s wonderful to be teaching a class without a high stakes exam at its conclusion.


Next week, before I dig into following the Crossing the River with Dogs structure, I am going to borrow from the endlessly inspiring Alex Overwijk.  He has recently written about some incredible multi-day activities in his classroom; I’m thinking that next week’s 3 day week would be perfect for borrowing and adapting his Which One Doesn’t Belong sequence.

And there are more people I have to thank and credit for other strategies I am trying:

Visibly Random Groupings as described by beginnersmindmath

A Google Doc Planner thanks to Jessica, the algebraniac!

Screen Shot 2015-09-06 at 6.52.13 PMFinally, this: As I was writing this post, a brief glance at my Twitter feed showed this:

Glenn Waddell‘s response to the New York Times article about the TeachersPayTeachers website echoed exactly the sentiments I am feeling as I write this post.  My mindset swung from anxiety to enthusiasm today as I sifted through the rich mine of resources that my professional (and personal) community shares; I am completely honored to be included in the list in his post.