Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Science Labs

This year I will be teaching 6th and 7th grade science and 10th grade math. This got me thinking about labs. There's a really cool tool called PiktoChart that will help you make presentations and infographics. I have used it to make a lab report form and a lab rules poster. Lab Report Lab Rules
Feel free to use mine, or go to to make your own!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Rethinking Statistics

So, school's been out for a couple of weeks now, giving me the opportunity to prepare for next year. (I have to give my brain something productive to do or else it ties itself up in knots). This will be my third year teaching tenth grade math, and I have been giving some thought to how I want to do it this year. Particularly, I'm thinking about the statistics unit because it is the first in the book. Below are my ramblings about my planned unit (including some links to materials). I would love feedback and suggestions!

2 years ago, I had Coach come in and talk about sports statistics. I didn't do that last year, but I'll have to make it a priority again---it was fun for everyone and gave a little non-math-class context for what we were doing.

Because this is my third year at a small school, I know most of the students who will be in the class already. The first day of school, I plan to go over basic rules and procedures and jump right in. I was thinking of starting with a simple warm-up---maybe finding mean, median, and mode of a data set. It will let me introduce warm-up procedures right away, as well as see whether the students' brains have turned to mush over the summer. Later, I'm thinking of doing a word sort activity using some statistics-related word cards from I might put together a student survey, too, just so I can get some real-life data for problems during the unit.

Last year, I used some of the supplemental materials from as I was starting my statistics unit. It worked okay, but things dragged on a bit. As I read through the teacher's guide again, I realized I need to make smaller groups, use some of the team collaboration strategies suggested by CPM, and set a time limit for some of the activities. The part that I will be using is about one-variable statistics (Chapter 11 in the Integrated Math 1 course). I plan to do the first two parts as is, as they will be review. I want to introduce standard deviation by hand before I teach them to do it with a calculator, so I will insert a day between sections 2 and 3. I made a PowerPoint for this purpose.

After the cpm materials, I'll use the textbook problems, along with analyzing real data. (Last year, we looked at some stats from the students' home countries. In a fourteen-student class, we had 8 nationalities represented!) I may also use some of the materials form if the kids need extra practice/reinforcement. I used some of these last year, but the lesson on standard deviation brought up both population and sample standard deviation. I taught them both last year, but I think it was a bit much. This year, I think I'll just stick with population standard deviation, since that's what's in the book.

I also saw a few days ago that Lisa Henry posted her statistics unit materials on her blog. I like her "I Can" statements, and I may pull some of her practice problems for formative assessments.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

2014-2015 Reflections

Wow! I haven't blogged since last summer. I thought I would share a few of my reflections from this year.

I teach in a Christian school, and I had the privilege of sharing devotions with my 8th graders 3 mornings a week. On Mondays, I read from a book. In the fall, I read parts of The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. I don't think I'd use this book again. It's an easy read, but it makes Brother Lawrence sound too perfect with too little effort. The kids had trouble relating. In the spring, I read parts of Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. This had the opposite problem. It was a bit too intellectual for Monday mornings. Next year, I think I will try something in the middle, like a good missionary biography.

On Thursdays, I usually gave a devotion that either tied in with Wednesday's chapel or with the season of year---or both. I plan to continue doing this, unless next year's class is more eager to volunteer to lead devotions.

On Fridays, we prayed for a country every week using Operation World. I'm not sure I'd do this again. Some of the kids didn't want to pray for "rich" countries because they thought they didn't need prayer. I tried telling them rich countries need just as much prayer as poor countries, but it fell on deaf ears. I had to read from the book, because the kids didn't understand all the words. It might say something similar to "the dominant political party incarcerates dissidents," and the kids would stare at me like I had two heads until I translated that into plain English. Next year, I think we will do some Scripture memory instead, and maybe throw in some fun games I've had the upcoming 8th graders for the past 2 years for math, so I know that they like to show off.

Math 7:
I'm not teaching Math 7 again next year. If I was, I'd go a bit slower on simplifying algebraic expressions. This idea is not at all intuitive for students, and some of them struggled with it all year. I made a foldable that helped somewhat.

One thing I did that I liked was my coordinate graphing stations. For the first station, they did a slope of lines cut-and-past activity that  I found online. (Unfortunately, this took way longer than the other stations, and the students asked if they could write in the answers instead of cutting and pasting. I let them).  The second station graphed a coordinate picture. To save on copies, I printed out one direction sheet and had each group do it on their own graph paper. To save time, each group only did one picture. If I did this activity again, I would print out a coordinate picture with a coordinate plane for each group member. Saving paper is not all it's cracked up to be. The third station did "hit or miss": they had a worksheet of lines to graph by plotting points. For each one, one person filled in the table and graphed the line (I used a worksheet generated from Then the other members of the group took turns flipping two counters (the yellow side was positive, and the red side was negative) and rolling two dice to make a coordinate pair. If that coordinate pair was on the line, they got a point, Otherwise, the person who graphed the line got a point. (I modified this idea from a game in an old 8th grade textbook I had lying around).

The last station was the "function game," as described at I had introduced this game last year, with a couple of extra rules: no more than two steps, no fractions or decimals in the function rule itself, and no numbers bigger than 10 or smaller than negative ten in the function rule itself. The person who made the rule got a point for each incorrect guess (to discourage random guessing) and the person who guessed the rule got a point and got to make the next rule.

These stations ran longer than I had intended---about a class period per station. However, the kids enjoyed it, and they scored better on that unit test than any other test of the year (although that may be just because they found the material easier.)

Math 10:
Math 10 is rather odd, because our curriculum only gives a few new topics, and the rest of the year is review. The review section has no actual instruction, however, and the problems are way too hard for most students without explicit instructionI used a lot of materials from, Henrico Geometry Online, and, along with other internet resources, to do the review units. Next year, I think I will make quadratic functions into 2 units rather than one. Solving quadratics was review (I know they had done it before because I had them for ninth grade), but the students did not remember it very well at all. They needed a lot more explicit instruction and practice on the basics than I had planned. To make more time for that next year, I think I'll remove the surface area and volume unit. I know for a fact that the upcoming 10th graders covered this thoroughly in 8th grade with a fantastic teacher. (I observed some of his classes).

Science 8:
Teaching science was really fun. However, I have to remind myself that this is middle school, and not add in too much stuff. Fortunately, we have new textbooks for next year. (The ones we had this year were awful). One thing I learned by teaching this class is that the average 8th grader is not responsible enough to be trusted to light and manage their own  bunsen burner. They play around too much. (We were fortunate not to have any accidents, but I have no desire to push my luck.) Toward the end of the year, I did the more dangerous labs as demonstrations. The kids could come up and try if they wanted, but I was right there, and that made it easier to ensure that they were following safety rules. Non-dangerous labs can be done in small groups. I found that the students behaved much better if they were in pairs than in 3's or 4's, so I'll try to do that next year when possible.

Every class:
I tried grading using a notebook approach for this unit. I don't think I'll do that again. The kids were always losing worksheets and handouts, and I felt like I was grading them more on their organizational skills than on what they had learned.

Next year, I'm teaching Science 7, Science 8, and Math 10. If anyone has suggestions for these classes, I'd love to hear them!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

On Taking Math Class Outside

basketball by mdlsoft -  basketball hoop and ball - vectorized

Some people seem to believe that math class should always involve students quietly sitting at desks, working with pencil and paper on problems out of the textbook. This sort of lesson is a useful tool, but it can get boring if that's all you do, day after day...

I believe in taking classes outside. Yes, the students get distracted---but they get distracted inside, too. It's a nice change of pace from time to time, and the students enjoy it. You have to be smart about it, though---I had a professor in college who had class outside with us once, but he was giving a PowerPoint presentation while we were trying to follow along on laptops, except we couldn't see because of the glare...not the best lesson ever.

However, I've found several ways to get my classes out into the fresh air. Sometimes the students were engaged in doing math. Sometimes they were distracted and just wanted to play. Most of the time it was a combination of the two. Here are some of the activities I've done:

  • Scavenger Hunts: I did one for measurement with grade 6 (they had to measure various objects with their rulers and convert between cm and m). I also tried one for volume with grade 10---they had to find objects in various shapes, measure them, and find the volume. Most of them found stuff in teachers' classrooms, or even tried to make stuff out of paper and pass that off as their find. If I did that activity again, I would tell them they had to find the objects outside.
  • Transformations: Kids made various shapes on the basketball court and then I gave them either a vector translation (for geometric shapes), or a changed equation (for graphs of parabolas).

  • Finding leaves: Students picked ten leaves from the same tree, measured them, and found the mean and standard deviation (I got this idea from somewhere, but I don't remember exactly where).
  • Spreading out groups: more space than indoors.
  • Review games: like math basketball, etc.
  • Sports Statistics: This one was fun. I had the PE teacher give a guest talk about sports statistics, and then we went to the basketball court and found our class free-throw average
How do you get your math students outside?

Monday, August 11, 2014

Made it Monday: Divisibility PowerPoint

I taught the divisibility rules last year, but I don't think the kids really got them. I have had them memorized since fifth grade, but I never understood how they worked. So I did a little internet research. The videos at finally cleared up the confusion.

I decided I wanted to show the kids why the divisibility rules work, but I couldn't find a resource that was quite what I envisioned. Either they required too much multimedia (which is rough when you're on African internet) or they assumed the kids already understood some of the rules.

Here is where the PowerPoint comes in. It's far from perfect, and I don't know if the kids will totally get it, but it least it gives me a place to start. Here is the file if you want it:

Thursday, August 7, 2014

First Day of School (for me)

So today was the first day of all teacher orientation (new teachers had already been there for three days). We started out with a worship time, which was nice. Our meetings got interrupted by the rain. This might sound silly, but our roof is made out of tin, with no ceiling or anything below it---when it's raining, you have to yell to be heard. I got into my classroom, but didn't get a chance to really start decorating yet. Maybe I can start that tomorrow.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Monday Made It: Operations and Properties

I'm a little late to the party, but I thought I'd link up with 4th Grade Frolics for MadeitMonday!

I made this PowerPoint of arithmetic operations and properties. (Am I the only one whose middle schoolers always ask "which way does the division go?) I haven't decided how to use it yet. I may print it to post in my classroom. I may display it as a PowerPoint review with my kids. I may show them the PowerPoint and then let them make posters to display in class. At any rate, I hope this will cut down on some of the "what does it mean 'find the difference'" sorts of questions.

 If you want the files, you can get them here

Feel free to edit and/or share with your teacher friends if you like!