Hi there! My name is Sarah Carter. I am a high school math teacher in the tiny town of Drumright, OK. If you can't already tell from the title of my blog, I LOVE teaching math. I also love foldables, interactive notebooks, and origami. My favorite number is pi.
This has been a CRAZY week. Two nights of parent teacher conferences. A trip to the airport. Blood Drive. Mix this with the natural craziness of the week before spring break, and I realize that the only blog posts I've written this week have been Monday Must Reads and Five Things Friday. Oops. Given that next week is spring break, I can't promise that next week will be any better in the posting department.
Here's a peek into some of what I've been up to this week.
1. We broke out the algebra tiles in Algebra 1 this week to learn how to multiply polynomials. My students had never seen algebra tiles, so first I had to teach them how they work. I tried four different ways of introducing algebra tiles, and I'm really happy with the fourth iteration of my intro to algebra tiles lesson. I handed each student a bowl of algebra tiles (I find that the flat square bowls at Dollar Tree with the green lids are perfect for storing sets of Algebra tiles in the classroom) and asked them what they noticed. It was a beautiful scene to witness. Students were noticing that there were different sizes and colors. They noticed that each size of shape featured a red side. When I asked why that might be, one student suggested that the red side probably meant negative.
After we had listed other things we noticed such as "they make a cool sound if you hit two of them together," I asked for a student volunteer to come to the board and make a picture using some of my jumbo magnetic algebra tiles. Then, I wrote the polynomial that represented this picture beside it. I challenged my class to figure out how I was determining the polynomial. After the first picture (the butterfly on the right), my students were stumped.
So I invited another student to make a picture. This led to the flower beside the butterfly. They were still stumped.
Then, another student made a picture that consisted of only a red square. I thought this was brilliant because when I wrote -x^2 next to the large red square, there was no denying what the large square meant. The next student's picture was a single large blue square. When I wrote x^2 next to this picture, there were oohs and aahs as students started to figure out why I hadn't written an x^2 in the polynomial for the butterfly despite it having two large squares.
After students had started to grasp the meaning of the tiles, I started having them tell me what a picture would equal before I wrote down the polynomial. This was a lot of fun, and I think it will now be my go-to method for introducing algebra tiles in the future.
2. We had a student council meeting this week, and my dry erase board ended up being taken over by speed drawn pigs. Who knew that you could turn a capital E, two W's, one M, and one cursive l into a pig?!?
3. We're working on polynomials in Algebra 1. I made several question stack activities for this topic last year, so it's been nice to just go over to my filing cabinet and pull out the day's activity without having to do any prep! Here's the link to the blog post with this adding/subtracting polynomials in function notation question stack.
4. I think our blood drive was a success! My student council kids did a great job of trying to make sure everyone's blood donation was a great experience. They recruited extra donors on the day of the drive, and I'm incredibly proud of them. Even though I was technically the blood drive coordinator, they did almost all of the work. I was a big fan of the blood drive sign up poster they made!
5. My principal bought everyone tacos for dinner for the first night of parent/teacher conferences. Since I'm vegetarian, they special ordered me a quesadilla. Having a yummy dinner made it much easier to stay positive while spending 3 hours after school for conferences. I love meeting with students and parents, but it makes for SUCH a long day!
Happy Monday! Today is the first of two days where we have to stay after school three hours for parent teacher conferences. Given that I'm still dealing with the craziness that Daylight Saving Time has done on my body, it's been a LONG day. In three hours, I've only talked to four parents, so it does mean that I've had plenty of time to put together this week's volume of Monday Must Reads. Given how exhausted I was yesterday evening (I normally write my Monday Must Reads post on Sunday afternoons), I was starting to think that we weren't going to have a Monday Must Reads post this week. But, here it is! I hope you enjoy this peek into my favorite tweets from this week.
Jae Ess impresses with her latest Find the Error activity.
Craig Barton recently introduced the concept of SSDD problems. SSDD stands for "Same Surface, Different Deep." The idea is to use the same visual question stem to ask different questions at different levels. Check out Andy Lutwyche's attempt at some SSDD problems.
Mr Knowles shares two tasks that involve the same diagrams, similar to the SSDD problems mentioned before. This makes me wonder how often we waste time creating new problems when we could just extend problems that we have already created.
I don't blog about it very often, but I have been the student council advisor at my high school for the past six years. This year, with the terrible cold and flu season and the already-started allergy season, my student council students decided to hold a bake sale to purchase boxes of Kleenex for every single classroom.
This resulted in me dragging my husband to Walmart last week on a mission of buying Kleenex and only Kleenex. 51 boxes of Kleenex. In our combined middle school/high school, we have 17 different classrooms, so this worked out to 3 boxes/classroom.
I thought this would be a relatively simple shopping trip. I had planned on filling our cart with the Kleenex multi-packs that feature 3 or 4 boxes bundled together. There were a grand total of 3 multi-packs on the shelf. This meant that we had to fill the rest of our cart with individual boxes. As we were filling up our cart, one of our school board members stopped to say hi when she saw us. Then, she saw our cart. The conversation went a little like this: "How are you guys? Oh, I see you need a lot of toilet paper." I quickly explained that we were purchasing it for a student council project. Then, she insisted on taking a photo of us so that we could remember this shopping trip forever.
Before we got away from the Kleenex aisle, we started getting questions from another shopper. This lady had assumed that we were store employees who were taking the Kleenex off the shelf because Walmart was no longer going to be selling it.
Luckily, the cashier didn't blink an eye when we she saw our purchase. We made a comment about getting weird looks, and she said that we actually weren't here weirdest purchase of the day. Earlier, a lady came through her checkout line with an entire cart full of children's underwear. It turned out that the underwear was on clearance for $1/package, and she was going to send it to Haiti.
One of my student council kids came up with the slogan "No Tissue Is No Longer An Issue!"
I typed up the slogan with a little message at the top that says that DHS Student Council is behind the project, and I printed them 2 to a page. After grabbing some colorful paper and spending a short amount of time at the paper chopper, we assembled the tissue boxes in stacks of three and taped a sign to each one.
Here's a shot of almost all of the tissues waiting to be delivered.
Shout out to my student council kids for coming up with a creative way to serve our school!
This lesson idea started out like many of my ideas do. I start thinking about the topic I'm teaching, and I ask myself "What if...?" This week, the topic was polynomials, and the question I asked myself was "What if I could create some sort of open-middle style puzzle for polynomials?" I tried running the idea by my husband, but he seemed terribly confused.
So, I went ahead anyway. I typed up my idea, cut out all the pieces, laid them in the living room floor, and asked my husband to solve the puzzle. The puzzle involves the names of eight different polynomials (such as 6th degree trinomial, quartic monomial, or linear binomial) and twenty different terms which must be arranged to form these eight polynomials.
All twenty of the term cards MUST be used.
It was interesting to watch my math teacher husband tackle this puzzle. He ended up placing some cards in such a way that he later ran out of the cards he needed and had to do some shuffling to make sure that he could properly make all eight of the polynomials with the given terms.
I asked him what he thought of the difficulty level of this puzzle, and he said it was just tricky enough to be at the right level for my Algebra 1 students. After watching my students tackle this activity for the last three days (my classes are in all different places due to a talent show we had this past week), I agree that this puzzle has enough different solutions to not be too challenging but requires enough rethinking and reshuffling pieces to still engage students and get them thinking.
I printed the polynomial names on orange paper and laminated each set. Then, I printed the polynomial term cards on a different color of paper for each set. One thing I didn't think of when designing my cards was that the orange polynomial pieces were too big for my snack bags!
I loved listening to students discuss where to start. Many of my groups decided to start with the monomials and work their way up to the longer polynomials.
The biggest issue students ran into was trying to make a linear binomial with cards like 9x and 2x. Whenever I saw this while circulating the classroom, I would stack these two cards on top of one another and remind students that we need to always combine our like terms. 9x and 2x are the same as 11 x which meant they only had a linear monomial.
Another issue my students ran into was ending up with term cards that couldn't fit in the polynomials they had left to create.
One of the cards students are given is "+7x^8." The students are asked to create a 10th degree polynomial and a 6th degree trinomial as well as a host of lesser degree polynomials. This means that there is only one polynomial that could possibly hold a term with an exponent of 8.
Many of my students did not realize this until late into the activity. I had several groups try to place 7x^8 in a linear binomial. Almost every time this happened, the other partner would speak up and say why that wasn't allowed.
This meant my students often had to take one term from one polynomial and then another term from another polynomial to fill that spot and so on in order to make everything work.
I'm super proud of how this activity turned out. I think that my students had a much better understanding of how we name polynomials after taking a turn at creating their own.
I believe that having to build polynomials with a pre-determined set of terms (in this case, a deck of polynomial term cards) made this a much more powerful and engaging activity than just asking students to create polynomials with the terms of their choosing.
Want to try this activity with your own students? I've uploaded the file for it here.
We've made it to Friday once more. And, what a crazy week it has been! On top of my regular schedule of Cookie Club on Monday evening and teaching a class at church on Wednesday nights with my husband, I had things such as a talent show, a student walk-out, Math Teachers' Circle, a day-long observation by a teacher from another district, and a meeting about the possibility of going on strike in a few weeks. Let's just say that I'm glad that we only have one more week of school before Spring Break is here!
As usual for a Friday, I'm posting five small things I've been up to which aren't exactly worthy of an individual blog post. I find this is a nice way to capture the smaller things that go on as a teacher.
1. Chemistry participated in a "Naming Compounds Manhunt" activity this week. I'm usually pretty good about keeping my Algebra kids up and moving around the room away from their seats, but doing this activity made me realize I have not done a good job of this with my chemistry class this year. As a teacher, there is always room for improvement!
30 compounds were hidden around the room. Students had to locate them and provide either the name of the compound (if the formula had been given) or the formula of the compounds (if the name had been given).
2. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, there is a possibility that Oklahoma teachers will go on strike April 2nd. Let's just say that Oklahoma teachers are tired of being ranked 50th when it comes to teacher pay. We're tired of the state legislature cutting education funding year after year. We're tired of constantly feeling disrespected and taken advantage of. We're tired of being told that we knew what we were getting ourselves into when we decided to become Oklahoma teachers.
My district's school board has voted that our entire district will shut down so that teachers can (and must) strike if the education union's demands are not met by April 1st which is the deadline for the Oklahoma legislature to pass a budget. It's a crazy time to be a teacher. I'm hoping that our legislature steps up so that a strike is not necessary. The place I want to be more than anywhere else is in my classroom teaching my kids.
3. On a lighter and happier note, we did some crafting this week in chemistry. We built covalent compound models out of pipe cleaners and pony beads. These will soon be gracing one of the bulletin boards in my classroom!
4. On Wednesday night, our lesson at church with our fourth grade class was about being prepared for when Christ returns. While thinking about what game we could play as an illustration of being prepared, Shaun thought about the game of Nim. Having played the game before (I learned the game from my 6th grade math teacher), we were much more prepared than our students who had never heard of the game before. They had lots of fun competing against each other. Then, I challenged students to play me. They were shocked that I was able to beat them EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. Of course, I had to confess and tell them that I had "prepared" before class so that I could beat them. Can you tell that my husband and I enjoy fitting math-y activities into bible lessons?
5. Last night at the Tulsa Math Teachers' Circle, we got to explore the world of perfect card shuffling. This was a fun and rather shocking activity. Our job was to answer the question of how many perfect shuffles are required to return a deck of cards to its original ordering. Let's just say I did not expect the answer we found!
Another fun thing that happened at Math Teachers' Circle was getting to see the giant pentominoes! A local boy scout made a set of giant plastic pentominoes for the math department at TU for a service project to earn his Eagle Scout ranking. They are ginormous, and I'm already scheming a way to create something similar for my own classroom!
This week, I'm trying out a different sort of puzzle on the puzzle table. Instead of being a puzzle where students have to arrange various laminated pieces like I frequently use, this is a coloring puzzle. To make things easier on students, I placed the puzzle inside an 11 x 17 dry erase pocket (affiliate link).
My students have seemed a bit intimidated by this puzzle this week, so I'm wondering if I need to rewrite the instructions somehow. The goal of the puzzle is to color a subset of the given arrows so that each uncolored arrow points at exactly one other uncolored arrow and each colored arrow points at exactly two other colored arrows.
Some of my students who are regulars at the puzzle table read the instructions and immediately decided this puzzle was not for them without even attempting it. I'm wondering if the coloring aspect is part of the issue. If I laminated and cut out different colored/uncolored arrows that students could place on the puzzle board, would they be more willing to give the puzzle a try?
During my planning period today, I sat down with a student who often hangs out in my room during my planning period (he has a free hour), and solved this puzzle with him. Once I read the instructions and re-explained what it meant for an arrow to point at other arrows, he was able to pretty much solve the puzzle with only a tiny bit of guidance from me.
This makes me think that this puzzle would make a better class-wide challenge than a puzzle table challenge which is more of a tackle-it-on-your-own-if-you-are-so-inclined challenge.
Interested in this puzzle for your classroom? I've uploaded the file here. It's designed to print on 11 x 17 paper, but you can easily print it scaled to ~65% to print it on letter sized paper.
Happy Monday! I had a fun weekend if you consider reorganizing your entire kitchen to be fun. It's certainly an adventure cooking anything now since I have to remember where I put everything! I'm looking forward to this new week of adventures in the classroom. To help inspire me, I set down each weekend and reread all my twitter likes. I write a weekly round-up post of the most inspiring tweets and blog posts which I call "Monday Must Reads." I hope you enjoy the latest volume.
David Butler shares the idea of using Prime Climb (affiliate link) cards to teach multiplication facts. I love the idea of using this powerful visual for motivating multiplication.
Well, we've made it to both Friday and March. I can't believe that Spring Break is only a few weeks away. I'm both excited for the summer and terrified that I'm not going to make it through the entire Algebra 1 curriculum in time. Here's a little of what I've been up to this week:
1. My Algebra 1 students debated the outcome of the tug of war contest involving Acrobats, Grandmas, and Ivan. I highly recommend this task from Marilyn Burns. I found a lovely PDF of the activity here to print and use with my students. It was very interesting to see the different approaches my students took to solve this problem. I'm planning on writing up a post to share their different solution methods.
2. My husband and I teach a class of 4th graders at church on Wednesday nights. This semester, we are learning about a different parable each week. This week's lesson was on the parable of the persistent widow. We have a super tiny classroom, so we can't do many of the activities suggested in the teacher's guide. I started brainstorming activities or games that we could do to practice persistence. Then, it hit me - PANDA SQUARES!
I passed out a set of panda squares to each 4th grader and gave them no instructions. I just stood back and watched them for a while. Most caught on to the idea of matching black with black and white with white with absolutely no prompting from me. After a bit of free play, I issued the actual panda squares challenge: assemble the pieces into a 4 x 4 square so that the colors match along each edge.
3. I found a bit of interesting graffiti on my dry erase board...
4. I learned a very important lesson. If your filing cabinet drawer won't shut, don't force it shut. If you do, it will not open. And, your classroom will end up looking like the photo below as you dismantle your entire file cabinet to unstick the drawer that you forced shut. I have to say a special thank you to my 2nd period class for helping me with this non-routine filing cabinet maintenance!
5. We pulled out the hydrocarbon modeling kits in chemistry this week, and my students were big fans of being able to create they physical model before drawing the Lewis structure. I definitely saw some lightbulbs go off.
Now that it's March (how in the world did that happen?!?), it's time again for another puzzle table round-up post. You can check out my two previous round-ups here and here.
Not sure what I mean by a puzzle table? Inspired by Sara VanDerWerf's idea of a play table, I put out a new puzzle for my students to play with during spare class time each Monday. The puzzle stays out for the entire week to spark student interest and curiosity. Some of the puzzles I use have been purchased. Others are puzzles I downloaded and laminated for durability. Most recently, I have been finding puzzle inspiration from the Puzzle Box books (Volumes 1-3) which are published by Dover Publications (affiliate link). To prove how much I LOVE these books, seven of the eight puzzles from the last eight weeks are from this series. I highly recommend using the "Look Inside" feature on Amazon to get an idea of the awesome variety of puzzles. So many of these logic puzzles can be adapted for classroom use, so these books are perfect for math teachers.
For each puzzle, follow the underlined link to get more information and access a free downloadable file!
Week 10: Ducks and Snakes - This is a tricky puzzle. None of my students were able to solve this puzzle during the week it resided on the puzzle table. Others have posted on twitter that they had a small handful of students who were able to solve it. The goal in this puzzle is to take three duck shaped pieces and three snake shaped pieces and organize each set of shapes to make congruent shapes.
Week 11: North East South West - My students found this letter-placing puzzle much easier to solve than last week's Ducks and Snakes puzzle. The goal of this puzzle is to place the letters so that you can trace out each of the cardinal directions by moving one space horizontally, vertically, or diagonally between letters.
Week 12: Cover the Duck - This puzzle was the first in a series of puzzles on the puzzle table that use the exact same set of pieces. Quite a few people have been asking me about what puzzles would be appropriate to use with elementary students. I would recommend this puzzle as well as the camel and heart versions mentioned below for elementary level students. I will warn you that even some of my high school students found it tricky, though!
Week 13: Cover the Camel - As I mentioned above, this puzzle uses the same five pieces as the Cover the Duck puzzle.
Week 14: The Four Seasons - After two weeks of puzzles that ask students to cover a geometric shape, we took a break and tackled another letter placing puzzle. This Four Seasons Puzzle asks students to arrange the letters so that the name of each of the four seasons can be traced out by moving horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. This puzzle follows the same rules as the North East South West Puzzle mentioned above.
Week 15: Silhouettes - A few weeks ago, I saw a tweet that featured this puzzle at a science museum. I retweeted it, asking if anyone knew where I could find a copy of the puzzle. My husband did some serious google-searching and found the puzzle online at Puzzles.com. Pam Cruz offered to print a set and mail them to me. This puzzle involves placing octagons on top of one another so that two different silhouettes of a bunny appear. My students loved playing with these octagons and seeing what shapes they could create!
Week 16: Cover the Heart - The week after Valentine's Day, we tackled this heart-shaped puzzle where the goal was to cover the heart using the five provided pieces. Remember, this puzzle uses the same pieces as Cover the Duck and Cover the Camel.
Week 17: Double Letters - This letter based puzzle that occurs throughout all three volumes of Puzzle Box caught my eye. You are given nine cards that each feature a double letter. You must find a way to lay out the cards (with overlapping allowed as long as no pair of letters is completely hidden) so that a 10-letter word is formed. My students have been working on this puzzle all week without being able to figure out. They keep insisting that it must be an obscure math or science word despite my reminding them daily that it is an everyday word.
Hope this post helps you increase the puzzling fun in your classroom!
Don't forget to check out the puzzles tab on my blog that features links to every single puzzle that I've ever blogged about. As soon as I hit publish on this post, I'm off to update that page with my latest puzzles.
Usually, my puzzle table features a math-y puzzle of sorts. This week is different. I've chosen a word/letter-based puzzle from Puzzle Box, Volume 2 (affiliate link). I've posted plenty of puzzles on my blog from Volume 1 and Volume 3, so I decided it was finally time to show Volume 2 some love!
Don't worry, there is still some mathematical reasoning hid in this puzzle!
You are given nine cards. Each card features a different set of double letters. Your goal is to arrange the nine cards in a line so that a 10-letter word is formed. Card can (and must) overlap each other. But, you cannot fully cover, rotate, or flip any of the cards.
Here's an example of how the letters should be arranged. Keep in mind, the word you will be creating is MUCH longer!
If you figure out this puzzle, please don't post any spoilers!
I've uploaded the file I created for my puzzle table here.
These puzzles were created by Serhiy Grabarchuk. I found out while doing some googling as I wrote this post that these puzzles are actually known as "DoubLetters" puzzles. Serhiy published another one of his DoubLetters puzzles on Puzzles.com in February of 2012. You can download a PDF of that puzzle here.