PreRequisite Knowledge/Review (Blog Challenge #4)

Whew! I made it, the last blog challenge “blog”. I will be continuing on this journey; however, the last few weeks of school have just been very hectic. So, here I am, giving the last blog challenge.

During my teaching career, I have done a lot of thinking and talking with colleagues about what to do with prerequisite knowledge and/or review. Should I review previous concepts? If so, how long should I take? It seems a good chunk of the first part of Algebra II is review from Algebra I. During my first few years, I taught with a wonderful lady who used to say we needed to identify a set of skills for each class that we want the students to know solidly when leaving the class. This made sense to me, but of course, it never matriculated. That was in a different state. Last year, as we started discussing the new CCSS and the transition phase, this came up again. How were we going to raise our expectations, the “rigor” we keep hearing about if students do not come in with what they need?

So, we developed a list of skills that we are using a basis for our required bell ringers. I did this myself last year in PreCalculus. I would do a skill or a few of skills per week or unit. Then, they would see a few problems from the skill(s) on the test. I am not one for taking up papers and having a lot of papers to grade, so this does a few things. First off, most of my students do their bell work because they want to know how to do it for the test. It minimizes having to review concepts that students have learned in the past. When I got to the hard logarithm problems last year in PreCalculus, my students had almost no trouble with them. In fact, for most of them, it was their favorite thing. I really questioned this at first because usually, that can be a tough area for some of my students. When thinking more in depth about it, I realized it was because they knew the skills needed to solve logarithm problems because we had been doing so much of it in bell ringers. It is important to make bell ringers meaningful. We do not need to create busy work for the students to do during that time.

This year, I am doing this in all of my classes. Algebra II will no longer have any repeat from Algebra I. I refuse in an honors/gifted class to teach skills they have already seen. So, I am doing my review this year as bell ringers and in every course, I have dove right in, head first into the water. We are not spending weeks before reviewing old content. We are going to do it as needed with bell ringers. But, I am curious, what do others do for review? Do you spend a few days at the beginning of the year doing that? Do you do a summer review? This is something I am actually considering and have considered in the past. I taught at a school that implemented a summer review for a special PreCalculus course, basically the course that led to AP Calc. No matter what, I am done reviewing concepts for the first six weeks. This is something I feel will tremendously help my students. It won’t only help them in my class, but in post secondary education.


The “Why” (Blog Challenge #3)

Teaching . . . My life dream from as young as I can remember. I have always wanted to be a teacher, so you probably want to stop reading and think this is a snoozer. Maybe it is, I don’t have a life revelation like many did. However, I must say that today, with challenges I am being faced with, I have to remember the “why”. Why did I become a teacher? Yes, it was my lifelong dream; however, what has kept me in it and what drives me today?

I played school with my stuffed animals, chalkboard/bulletin board combination, and my ‘papers’. I laid them all out nicely and neatly in rows. I got even more excited when I grew old enough to help my aunt grade papers. She was a teacher, so she was someone I always looked up to and one would say idolize. Yes, I was also the kid in the class that wanted to be the helper.

It wasn’t until high school that I decided I would be a math teacher. I had a wonderful Algebra I and II teacher. At a large high school, it is rare that someone would have the same teacher for both, but I was fortunate in that. As good as she was, I realize now, she was a very traditional teacher and I was very good at drill and kill and doing the exact steps she taught. I learned very quickly in my freshmen college math course, I had not learned one bit to think about the mathematics. I simply learned processes to get an answer. This becomes challenge #1 for me in my classroom – Never let the students just ‘monkey see-monkey do’. It is most important for students to understand the “why”.

Let me back up a bit. When I started high school, my parents thought I would simply be average in school. I made decent grades, nothing great. I did enough to usually stay on honor roll, but I think it is safe to say I was one that was ok skating by. I did not want to be the smart girl in my class because then I might have been noticed. So, when I actually started showing some interest in mathematics in college, my family of course tried to sway me towards something else. Most could not understand why I would want to major in mathematics with the plans of becoming a high school teacher. The university I went to had and still has one of the top Pharmacy schools in the nation. People all of the time asked why I wouldn’t do that, it would make so much more money. Here is challenge #2 for me in my classroom – Tell my students my story. Let them know they need to choose a career that they will love to get up every morning and go there. Sure, there are bad days, but overall, I love getting up and going to work. That beats all of the money in the world.

I teach mostly gifted and honors students here in Louisiana. I did teach 3 years at a high school in Maine and 3 years in Washington, 1 at a high school and 2 at a middle school. My students now often ask why I teach when it seems to them I could do a number of things in life. I take my students to engineering day at Louisiana Tech (have to plug their engineering program – it is WONDERFUL!) every year and usually this really prompts my students to ask me why I do not do that or something else. Of course, as math teachers, we fool our students most  all of the time. They think I know everything about math and a lot about science. I have been to summer workshops with their engineering people and have students in their program. I will be honest, with the rapid changes in education, it has entered my mind to consider it. But, I can’t let go of the “why” and this is what I share with my students.

I love math and I love teaching. This is the best of both worlds. I love getting up everyday and going to work. When I had my son over a year ago, people thought I would just hate leaving him. I will admit, it is hard to leave him, but if I didn’t love what I did everyday, there is absolutely no way I could leave him. Yes, he is my child, but I look at it as I have approximately 80 others who are relying on me. I want to facilitate math learning in a way the student has rarely or even possibly never experienced before. I want to have high expectations for my students, but have a classroom that students can feel comfortable walking in and taking risks.

This year is the first year I have really had to ask myself the “why” in my 12 year career. Why do I do this when I could possibly do something else? With the new expectations being placed on all teachers in our state, why do I want to continue to do this? Why do I want have to work after my son goes to bed nightly to meet these expectations? Overall, I have realized all of this will make me a better teacher in the long run. But the answer is simple, I love what I do. Regardless of what is thrown at me during my career, it never will change: I love teaching and I love math. That is enough of the “why” for me.

#myfavoritefriday ACT Math Question of the Day

Ok, so I have been blogging now for a few weeks and have decided to participate in #myfavoritefriday. I have loved seeing everyone’s post, so thought it would be fun to join in. I will admit, I have been a bit intimidated, so hopefully it will get easier.

Last year, I was committed during the second half of the school year to get my juniors prepared for the math part of the ACT. I wanted to do it as part of my bell ringers that are mandatory by my administration. I have found them to be very worthwhile for a few reasons. One is for ACT practice without taking more class time than just the beginning of class. I also use bell ringers to review prerequisite skills. I no longer teach Algebra I content in Algebra II honors/gifted courses. Same is true for PreCalculus.

As I was in search of ACT problems I could use in my class, I found a website, DCHS ACT Math Question of the Day. Since finding this website, I have emailed the owner of this site and he is so nice. He said I could use whatever helps students. I know it is nice to just look at. All of the problems, he has even broken down into what category it falls in. I would take screen captures to put into my Smart Notebook file.

Two Things Are Better Than One? (Blogger Initiative Week 2)

When looking at the blogger prompts for week 2 of the blogger initiative, I initially thought there was no way I would share anything. As I looked over the prompts more and more, I did realize there were two things I would like to share, if for nothing else, feedback on how to make them better. That is part of what I want to get out of doing this blog. Blogging is for me, it is going to be a reminder of things I have done and continue to do. It is a way for me to reflect on what I am doing as a teacher so I can get better. Hopefully, along the way, I will get input from others on how to do “it” better.

I read through some of the new bloggers with the NBI, and I saw a post, I Still Suck at Teaching (and how I am going to fix that). This year I have felt this way more than ever and with all of the changes in our state (Louisiana), I am not 100% sure how I am going to fix it this year, but I am working on it. This post struck me though that I need to be finding more investigative activities for my students to engage in, from Geometry through Calculus. I am the only gifted math teacher at my school and teach Geometry, Algebra II, Advanced Math, Pre Calculus, and Calculus. So, time is tough. But, I thought, I have nothing good to even share, I have to not “suck at teaching” and get it together!

Coming back to the prompt I decided on, it was important for me to find a few things I have put together myself to help my students with investigative practices or constructing their own reasoning. Yes, there are things in Algebra II that students just have to do more “rotely” such as simplify rational expressions. But, there are things that can be more investigative. That is what I am challenging myself with this year, finding those things and creating meaningful tasks for them.

When thinking through my documents, I remembered that I had created a hands-on approach to teaching piecewise functions. When I would stand up in front of the room and teach piecewise functions in PreCalculus, it seemed like it was just a mystery to most students. I would even say, “Imagine cutting the function off at the endpoints given to you.” Then, a few years ago, I thought, why don’t I have the students literally cut out the graphs. So, I created an investigation for piecewise functions. Most people are probably thinking, DUH! Why wouldn’t I have done this before now, but at least I have it now.

This is what I came up with:

View this document on Scribd

I realize it isn’t perfect, but it seems to work. After doing this, almost every one of my students understand how to graph piecewise functions.

I realized I had another project, which I am sure many of you do, but I still thought I would share it. It is my culminating project for PreCalculus. I have had many great projects through the years. I need to take pictures of my projects from last year. I check them by putting the functions into the N-Spire teacher software on my computer. This is what I give to the students:

View this document on Scribd

I know I have a ton to learn and hope to have things to share through the school year, so I “don’t suck” and work on getting better everyday!


First Day Activity – Take 2

The first two days of school are half days for us. I posted about the activity I did for my few 9th and 10th graders, but decided I need to change it a little. So, this is what I came up with – Day 2 for my juniors and seniors. 


ImageI have used before in different things, but never in class. That is what I used for this activity and it worked really well. I do have the free version so it doesn’t tell who responded or the person who made the comment. There is a way to do that, but it does cost. 

Overall, I am glad I did this activity in my classes. I got some really good and honest answers. I will probably do this again year after year. 

First Day Activity – Tweeting?

So, after thinking for a long time, I came up with this:

So, I didn’t have a ton of kids today because most of my classes are juniors and seniors and they attend tomorrow. But, already, I know I am changing the thing they are tweeting about. I used that students text in today. Just tonight, a colleague sent me about and I think I am going to try that tomorrow. I am also going to have them “tweet” a goal they have for this school year in mathematics. I like the idea of doing a tweet because it does make them direct their thinking to be more direct in what the students say.

The quote I have is something I am talking a lot about in my class this year. I hope it is something my students understand as important. Basically it comes down to goal setting and reaching a goal throughout the year. This quote will be on my syllabi and we will be discussing it. But after today with the few kids I had, I realized I needed to change the quote or do something a little different. It did work nicely when students submitted their responses. So, we will see what changes comes tomorrow with me changing up my thought process.

It’s Official – I’m Whiteboarding! (Blog Challenge, Week 1, #3)

I decided to take the blog challenge and glad I did. I have been so busy getting my online class in order and getting ready for students to start on Monday, that I have had very little time to get started. So, this blog challenge is prompting me to get started.

I decided on prompt 3 that deals with implementing or changing something for this year. I have been reading different blogs about whiteboarding and it really stuck with me. In Louisiana, we are implementing a whole new evaluation system, Compass. It is using the Donaldson Teacher Evaluations as 50% of our “score” and standardized test scores and/or student learning targets for the other 50% of our “score”. With the observations, the observer is looking for more student led instruction. So, it has had me thinking all throughout the summer. Not only do we have compass, but of course, we have the CCSS and the mathematical practices. When looking at all of these things, Whiteboarding just seems to make sense.

I have secured my 24″ x 32″ whiteboards. My wonderful husband went and got them this morning. I have decided to use my colored ducktape to make a cute boarder around them. I am still trying to figure out how best to attach a marker and eraser. I also want to glue pom poms on the end of the markers for quick erasers. Any ideas on how to do this?

I have found through the years, students love doing problems on the whiteboards. When I got my SmartBoard 4 years ago, it took up a lot of the space the students would use to work on the board. It not only took up the space where the whiteboard was, but my desk was also moved up to the front corner, taking up some additional board space. I don’t think buy in will be the problem, but I want to make sure to have clear procedures for using the whiteboards. One of the components of our evaluation rubric is classroom procedures. I am trying to figure out how to make smooth transitions with the whiteboards.

In addition to the whiteboards, I have figured out Splashtop, an iPad app that is basically a wireless “slate” for the SmartBoard. It is a remote and has wonderful response time. So, I will probably have one group working the problem out on the SmartBoard using the iPad as other groups are whiteboarding. More than likely, I will freeze the SmartBoard so students can work.

Another strategy I want to use is Polls Everywhere for quick checks where students will text in their answers to questions.

I am looking for suggestions to create more student led experiences for my students, even in the Calculus class. I am excited to be Whiteboarding this year and excited to continue to read blog posts on how well it goes.

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