Quadratics: Sharing the Love MTBoS Blogging Initiative

Explore the MTBoS prompt for the week is to share the love and the resources from other great bloggers. I wanted to do that by collecting some of the blog posts that will help inform the next unit I’ll be teaching (added, bonus, I’ll be able to find them easily when the planning begins in earnest). Algebra 1 starts semester 2 off right with a unit on quadratics. It is usually one of the more challenging ones for my students, but I have grown to really enjoy teaching it both here and in my third year math class which also has a quadratics unit with a bit more depth.

First: I want to remember the my students created assessment questions on the topic last year. They were great. I want to use the student generated questions this year and have the students create more of their own.

Second: I loved the series of Headache/Aspirin posters from Dan Meyer. His posts and all the comments given ideas to launch many topics one of which happens to be factoring trinomials!

Third: Jennifer Fairbanks wrote a blog post for last year’s Explore MTBoS in which she shared a quiz question for the quadratics unit. It allows students to have some choice while still getting them to practice multiple methods and understand the strengths and weaknesses.

Fourth: Lisa Henry has put together some practice for students on sketching graphs from zeros and other important points. I do an activity like every year and I never save it so I start from scratch. Lisa is kind enough to share hers so is already made for me!

Fifth: One thing I’m really excited about is the Marble Roll Lab from Mary Bourassa. She did it with her students and used a linear model so we did that earlier in the year. But, like she mentions, the actual relationship is quadratic so I’m going to have my class revisit and try to model with a quadratic to see if they get better results. Either way, we’ll talk about reasons why they get better (or if they get worse, reasons that could occur as well).

There are many more awesome quadratic ideas out there so I’ll certainly be adding to the list as I get more into the planning, but I’m excited to teach the unit. I’ll certainly be using algebra tiles for polynomial operations, factoring and completing the square for example.

If any of you have some favorite activities/lessons/launches/questions…. please share a link below!



And you can play along or keep track of other math bloggers here.

Soft Skills: MTBoS Blogging Inititative

Soft Skills. According to the Collins English dictionary these are “desirable qualities for certain forms of employment that do not depend on acquired knowledge: they include common sense, the ability to deal with people, and a positive flexible attitude[1]”  I like this definition. Mostly because I can say I at least have two soft skills…just not the social people one. Reading Sam Shah’s post from the Virtual Conference made me think a lot about the idea of what soft skills, especially regarding connecting with students looks like. I agree with him that we have some amazing people in the MTBoS that do powerful work and really connect with students.

I don’t buy that you have to be good at conversation and sweet emails to be that person. My bet is that Sam and his readers are all much better at connecting that they realize and also, that their brand of student connection might reach students that the more obvious outward teachers don’t. This might be partially a biased opinion. I am not great at social skills. I am awkward around people. I am terrible at talking about feelings. I am not a ‘friend’ to the students in the way many of the teachers at my school seem to be. I am definitely not bubbly.  I don’t understand even 5% of the references students and adults make to things I should probably know. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have a connection with students. My students know that I care about them, or at least that I respect them and have high expectations for them. I wouldn’t hold those if I didn’t care. I tell them this. And often students who are also feel different feel better knowing that they can count on me without going through the exhausting social protocols.

This is not at all to say that we don’t need those other amazing social people. We do. Very much. But we also need students to see that there are lots of versions of successful people. I don’t know anything about popular music. I am a lover of musical theater and football (but not the right team for my area). I love Ella Fitzgerald and Warren Zevon and probably can’t name a single person on the top 10 music lists (are those even a things anymore?) I can’t walk without running into things. I wear crazy socks. I didn’t have texting until this summer. I still don’t use it.

I think my main ‘soft skills’ tool: I don’t hide things from my students about what I do or why I do it. My teacher moves aren’t secret. We talk about them. We will take a minute or two to give a quick brain explanation. I also let them know every year that they hold a position of power in the class. It is their class, not mine. We talk about what that means. It’s not a free pass to go crazy. But at the end of the year, the only person who actually feels the consequence of no credit or bad grades is the student. My ego might be bruised, but it doesn’t affect my life the same way it affects them. They have the most to lose and gain, so they should have some say in the classroom. I am flexible and if things aren’t working them tell me and we change adapt. That being said, if there is a reason for my choice and I’m not willing to change it, I tell them what the reason is and why.

Also, the more we talk about the science of learning and what math can be, the more I am able to let go and actually be more for my students. I still won’t be the first person they run to with news of weekend plans (and that’s good by me!!) but they have become a real part of my life and I theirs. I student will notice that I’m not myself that day and check in. I don’t hide my flaws and own up when I screw up. I will adapt and be understanding when a student is late or absent or is having a tough day. I am committed to actively remembering that their brains work differently than mine and that they are not adults. We sometimes talk as math teachers about trying to remember that things that seem obvious to us are not obvious to students. The same goes for their reactions and behaviors. Again, this is not a free pass but an understanding that we have to enable safe practice of anything we expect of students.

I am still struggling in the how much to connect mode. In my first year at my current school, we lost six students in six months. And then too many more continuing over the summer. When I walk from school to pick up my daughter from preschool, I see some of my homeless students standing in lines waiting to see if there is food or shelter.  I get background stories on my students that are deeply painful. There is only so much I can do. And math is not always the most important thing. But, I can do what I can to use math class as a way to make them feel important, heard, and also have a bit of lighthearted yet important learning. They are still kids.

Also: Find others playing along at: https://exploremtbos.wordpress.com/ or on twitter.

[1] Collins English Dictionary: https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/soft-skills

Student Grouping: My Favorite

My biggest focus as a teach this year is to support and grow student discourse and empower my students to own the classroom. I have always considered getting students to work together and have great discussions a strength, but I’m using that to my advantage not to be afraid to try out crazy ideas since I already have some tools that work. I’m hoping that by June I’ll have more tools and more confidence to share these tools with others.

One simple idea that I used recently might be my favorite way to small group students. I use MARS Formative Assessment Lessons  in my classes quite often. In the high school tasks, a hallmark of the structure is a card sort where students pair up or sort two types of cards, then add a third set, then a fourth and so on. A recent example had students given a large set of cards to sort function or not. Then using only functions, linear or not. And then finally finding rates of change. Another example has students matching words with equations, then added graphs and then tables. The tasks take care to ensure students are paying attention to detail and have blank cards students need to create to finish sets. The FALs also come with great teacher moves, possible questions/misunderstandings and responses.

The card sorts are meant to be done in partners or small groups. An example of provided directions: “Take turns to match a situation card to one of the sketch graphs. If you place a card, explain why that situation matches that graph. Everyone in your group should agree on and be able to explain your choice.”

I start students off with their partner/group and let them work. I have never actually put up the working directions from MARS. My students developed a list of what they need for successful collaboration so I gently direct them to that if they aren’t working effectively. We also sometimes pick a specific one say “Listening and Holding Accountable” as a focus. They seem to have different working styles so I don’t usually like to be super specific on how to approach a problem.

Here is where the My Favorite comes in: When some groups have finished (I let them know ahead of time that many groups won’t be 100% done and that is OK) I ask the students to stop and either take picture or their cards or jot down the codes so they know which on they matched with what. Then one person from each group takes that and rotates to the next table.  Each new partner/group compares results, discusses differences, or finishes off cards. Then the new groups get the next set of cards/directions to complete step two. Rinse/repeat. By the end of the activity, at least 4 eyes have been on each  set, each student has worked with at least 4 different peers and all students get to the same place. We can do a whole class share-out here, an individual exit ticket, a combining of little groups…depends on the day and what students want. It is a simple strategy, but it works so well with my group this year. There is a little bit of movement, a lot a bit of discourse and what might look like happy chaos from the outside but really great cognitive thinking by the students.  It is a small change that has definitely improved not only discourse, but keeping all student involved the whole time.

As a side note, I don’t hide what I’m doing from the students. We talk about why I ask them to move around or why the tables might be moved that day, or whatever other teacher moves I might be using. It is their class, they should know whats happening and why.
Also…. Join others participating in the 2017 MTBoS blogging Initiative here.