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!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

5 TES Resources to use this year

My principal asked me to read and summarize 5 TES Resources about math and classroom management over the summer as part of my professional growth plan (Yes, I have an awesome principal). I figured I might as well put it in a blog post.

Behavior Management Strategies


Just what it says on the tin: this resource gives  practical tips/reminders for managing the classroom. Key ideas: Establish procedures and stick to them. Don’t talk until students are listening. Know when students are most likely to be chatty, etc. and plan for that. Keep the lessons engaging and catch them being good.


Last year I had a lot of trouble with students talking while I was teaching. It’s not that they were trying to be difficult---a lot of times one student would still be explaining to another how to do an assigned problem. I’m glad they do this, but not when it means they both miss the next bit of instruction. This year, I will not teach or give directions until the students are quiet. Also, I need to plan better for the beginning of class and transitions, particularly on days when I plan to do a PowerPoint---it takes time to set up the projector, and sometimes it goes off in the middle of class if we have a power outage. (This is Africa, after all). I need to have a long-ish warm-up on those days, and I will tell the students to bring their text books every day---because even if I’m not planning to teach out of it, I may need them to do problems out of it while I wait for the projector to come back on!

Classroom Behavior Management Toolkit


This is another set of behavior management tips, and it overlaps a lot with the resource above. The article emphasizes positive expectations, consistency, and respect for the students. Positive behavior should be encouraged, while negative behavior should be dealt with in as non-confrontational manner as possible (and if there is a confrontation, it should be in private). It also reminds teachers to think ahead of time about lesson beginnings, endings, transitions, etc.

One of my biggest struggles last year was letting students talk me into things. I need to always remember that I am the teacher and what I say goes. I plan to have seating charts from the very beginning of the year, and I will discuss expectations with students on the first day. Also, I will try to deal with behavior problems right away, rather than letting them build up.

Understanding Vectors

This powerpoint  thoroughly explains what vectors are, how to represent them graphically and in column form, and how to add, subtract, and multiply by a scalar quantity. It is quite long and gives lots of examples and definitions.

Vectors was one of my least favorite topics to teach last year, partly because I had never been thoroughly taught about them myself. We did a little with them in physics when I was in college, but even then it wasn’t like the vector geometry problems. This year should be better, since I have a better idea of what I’m doing, but I think this PowerPoint will help, too. I may have to modify it a bit---there are a lot of words per slide, and my students try to write down every single word and freak out if you change the slide before they’re done.  This lesson will take 3-4 days, with practice problems after each chunk of the presentation.

Vector Geometry

This is a straight-forward vector geometry worksheet.  All of the problems are 2-d, which saves some confusion. The vectors are already drawn, so the students just need to interpret them, which should save time. Answers are included.

This might be a good worksheet to use after (or perhaps ¾ of the way through) the PowerPoint above. Answers are included, so it would be easy to grade, and it would give the students plenty of practice. Also, they mark on it as much as they want without annoying the librarians (or me) by drawing in their textbooks.

Substitution Game: Algebra


This is a set of illustrated top trumps cards for substituting into algebraic expressions. Students split into small groups, divide up the cards, and play top trumps: They pick an ability, each of them draws a card, they draw a number card (to tell what to substitute in for a, b, and c) and the person with the highest value gets to keep  the cards.


I think this would be a fun way to reinforce this topic when I do the “Introduction to Algebra” topic with the seventh grade class. It would be easy to differentiate, as the resource author said, by having the higher-level students substitute in fractions, values, negatives, etc.