Sunday, September 24, 2017

Wood Splitting - A Middle School CCSS Math Lesson

I like create math situations for my students that relate to my life.  I like to do this in the hopes that my students see that everyday things can be related to the math they are learning.  My ultimate goal is for my students to consider the possibility of relating math to their lives.  This weekend is log splitting weekend.  One thing I love about the non-stop work and chores we have on our property is that often it is mindless work.  My job during wood splitting is to roll logs to my husband and to take the split pieces and turn them into a pile.  These tasks that do not take much brain power allow me to think about teaching, lessons, and math problems for my middle school students.  I take pictures to show my students to help them picture the context of the problems.

Our Pine Logs and Starting Pile

Our Oak Logs and Starting Pile

Here is the information for the problem:
  • Big pine logs provide 15 pieces of fire wood
  • Small pine logs provide 7 pieces of fire wood
  • We have 25 big pine logs and 21 small pine logs
  • We split big pine logs from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm
  • We split small pine logs from 2:00 pm - 3:30 pm
  • The pine pile started with 126 pieces of fire wood

I ask the students what math questions we can ask using this information and the concepts we are working on in class.

In my 7th grade classes we are working on Proportional Relationships, Constant of Proportionality, Unit Rate, Percents so the questions we create will be around those topics.  I have questions in mind so that if the students need guidance in creating, I can ask questions to move them if they get stuck.

In my 8th grade class we are working on solving equations.

In a few weeks I'll have my whiteboards up around the room so we can do this activity in a Math 360 environment which will change the entire dynamics of the lesson and the learning.

Here is  a photo of the completed wood pile:

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Design Challenges In Math Class

Upon going back to the classroom this year, I promised myself I would continue some of the things I started doing as an instructional coach.  One of my must do's this year is Design Day.  One day a week, we have a design challenge in our math class.  The purpose of these challenges is:
  • to connect design thinking into the mathematics classrooom
  • to provide opportunities for my students to "fail" in a low stakes environment
  • to connect maker activities to learning mathematics 
  • to encourage problem solving, critical thinking, risk taking 
  • to provide meaningful reflection for students as they process their successes and challenges
  • to remember that we are designer-ish and that means some days we end up with a pile of nothing
The goal of our first two challenges was to provide the students with a task that would be challenging and provide many opportunities to fail and start again, to persevere or give up, to step out of their comfort zone and feel challenge and possibly failure.

Inevitably, there is always a group or two who end up with a pile of nothing at the end of the time.  This becomes an opportunity for the whole class to consider how and why this happened.  We discuss what went well and what did not.  It also provides the opportunity to explain to the students that in the end, everyone learned something - some learned how not to do it, other learned one way to do it.  When we do a class gallery walk, the students learn there are many possible outcomes and ways to complete the challenge and learning takes place in every one.

Interesting Insights:
  • It amazes me how quickly the students give up their paralyzing fear of failure and are willing to jump in and take risks, an example:
    • a group of high achieving eighth graders copped out of the first challenge by building a structure that was one inch high.  They struggled as they tried to make the tallest structure and there was no way they were going to have a pile of Popsicle sticks at the end of time, so they built a stable and very short structure.  They were not willing to take a chance and fail so they were happy with partial completion rather than total failure.
    • Fast forward to the Week 2 Challenge - these same students let go of their fear of failure and were all in.  They took risks and persevered and completed the challenge successfully.  In one short week these students shifted their mindset and embraced the possibility of failure.
Here are our first design challenges.  The first two gave students the opportunity to take risks and prototype quickly with the possibility of inevitable failure always looming.  After the first two tasks, I connected the challenge to our unit of study - proportional relationships.  The students spent the next two design days building models of our classroom.  Next is introducing the Design Thinking model (I'm stealing Vista Innovation and Design Academy's process CLICK HERE).  

Our First Challenges:
Design Challenge #1:  Build the tallest free standing structure (can be moved and is not taped to the desk, floor, table etc...) out of 40 Popsicle sticks and masking tape
  • students worked in groups of 4
  • they had 20 minutes to complete the challenge
  • I provided tape as needed
  • Popsicle sticks were purchased at Dollar Tree
Design Challenge #2: Build a free standing structure out of straws and masking tape that will hold a box of 24 crayons 4 inches off the ground.
  • students worked in groups of 4
  • they had 20 minutes to complete the challenge
  • I provided tape as needed
  • straws were purchased at Dollar Tree

Design Challenge #3: Make a model of our classroom using construction paper and tape.  This first part of the challenge is the jumping off point for the design thinking process.  The students will use their first models to build scale models, then after learning from that process, each student will pick a meaningful object to scale up or down and build.

Photos of our Challenges:

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Ratios, Proportions, Chocolate Milk, and Hummingbird Feeders

Photo Courtesy of Krissy Venosdale
I am kind of an unconventional math teacher... I want my students to find other ways to solve problems that do not involve blindly following rules that I give them, oh I don't give them rules.  I spend an abundance of time asking them to problem solve and use critical thinking to solve problems.  They also have to show proof of understanding and share their processes, thinking, etc...

Over four years ago when I was in the classroom as a middle school math teacher one of my favorite activities was Dan Meyer's Nana's Chocolate Milk - 3 - Act Math  activity (love these problems and there is a plethora of them).  I love this activity because it it gives students an opportunity to solve ratio problems using proportional reasoning and problem solving without following a rule.  They can find "their" way to solve the problem using what they know.  It provides opportunities for math talks that create a community of mathematicians and "lead learners" rather than blind rule followers (obviously I have issues with step by step).  And on some days students have to embrace their "Ishness" - Here is a past post on that - CLICK HERE

Now back to Nana's Chocolate Milk and what it has to do with Hummingbird Feeders...

Ironically, I had a recipe mess up moment when I was making the potion we put into our hummingbird feeders.  I mistakenly used the 1/3 cup instead of the 1/4 cup.  So, of course I turned it into a proportional reasoning problem for my 7th and 8th grade students as a warm up problem for the day after we did the Nana's Chocolate Milk problem.  It was a bit more challenging, but the students
worked in groups and made meaning of the problem in ways that made sense to them instead of blindly following a rule I gave them.

I'm looking forward to later in the year when the students will start creating their own 3-Act math activities to share with their classmates and the world!

Here is the link to the slide deck I used to introduce the problem to my students: CLICK HERE.  Please Steal, Copy, etc... and use it with your students and/or create your own.

Monday, July 24, 2017

What I learned in First Grade

This morning I was reading George Couros' most recent blog post: 5 Questions to Ask Your Students to Start the School Year Click Here. At the beginning of the post he shares a question he posted on twitter to his followers:

"In your time as a student in K-12, what made an impact on you. Not who, but what? What do you remember that influenced you today?"

This question brought me back to first grade - the year I learned to HATE reading.  I learned that reading is about being grouped by ability and learning about Dick and Jane.  I learned it was laborious, meaningless (to me), and most of all passionless.  While I had books at home that I loved, that is not what reading at school was for me.  I was in the lowest reading group and it was then that I chose not to be a reader which meant I would battle reading the rest of my K-12 years.  I did not read for pleasure or in my free time, reading was a chore and/or a requirement.  Needless to say, that might have something to do with my passion for math and science.

Even though I had given up on being a reader, I would watch my mom devour books and spend hours chatting with her friends about books.  I secretly wanted to feel the passion my mom had for books and reading.  I assumed I would have to wait until I was an adult to experience THAT type of reading.  

One summer, when I was in college, I was visiting my Nana in Mission Beach and I picked up a Danielle Steele book.  Everyone reads at the beach so I decided to give it a try.  My reading world was changed forever.  I laughed, cried, got angry, frustrated and connected to the characters and the story.  I read every Danielle Steele book that was in the beach house.  I call Danielle my "gateway" author - she was the one who pulled me in, but after a few of her books, I needed more substance.  I'm so thankful for Danielle because she taught me what reading is/should be.

After that summer I began my credential program and my student teaching.  I was placed in a fifth grade classroom and another transformation happened.  As we read books like Bridge to Terabithia, I became more and more angry.  As I read and connected with the characters and had vivid pictures swirling in my mind I was mad at every teacher I had that never gave me that passion for reading, 13 years of schooling and NOT ONE of my teachers helped me cross over and become a passionate reader.  I set out to read all of the incredible books I skipped or missed out on during those 13 years.  

My second year of teaching during our "DEAR" time (drop everything and read) I was still catching up on incredible children's literature books.  I also read aloud everyday to my 4th and 5th grade students.  I would cry as I read and I modeled how you are supposed to feel and interact with a book and it's characters.  I also had Marisol, one of my 5th graders.  When I would get to a point in a book that I was crying so hard I could no longer read coherently, Marisol would come and take the book from my hands, sit next to me and continue reading where I had left off.  It was a seamless transition and I would go join the criers table (where all the criers sat during read aloud).  We would cry together as Marisol read aloud to us.  The students would keep a careful eye on me during DEAR time and when they saw me crying, they would demand that I read that book next.

Interestingly I'll be returning to the classroom as a first grade teacher, a grade I have not taught ever in my 27 year career.  I'll be sharing my journey as my students and I learn together this year.  One thing I know for sure, my students and I  will share a passion for books and reading from day one.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Makey Makey Sprinkler Simulation

One of our school sites has had sprinkler issues in their campus garden.  I had recently introduced Makey Makeys to four of the classes ranging in grades 1 - 4 (here's the blog post click here).  The awesome principal who has her contractors license and knows a thing or two about sprinkler solenoids decided to come up with a great Makey Makey simulation for some of her students.

Aurora noticed that the Makey Makey alligator clips matched the colors of the wires to the solenoids (she substituted grey for blue).  She also noticed that the Earth clip on the Makey Makey simulates the grounding wire for the solenoids.  So she realized that if she had the students set up the Makey Makey so that it would play the piano using the color coded alligator clips (grey for blue), the students would be able to go to the sprinkler system and wire up the solenoids for the different watering stations and get their garden watering system functional for the spring and summer months.

Students Simulating the Sprinkler Solenoids

The best part of this lesson was how she grouped the students.  The first group had 4 fourth graders, two of which are special education and emotionally disturbed.  The second group had 4 second and third graders and again had two special education students.  All of the students had used the Makey Makeys with me at least one time.  I was able to watch Aurora and her students as they quickly used the Makey Makeys to simulate the system and then take that understanding and go outside to take turns wiring the solenoids.

Students testing the system and watching each station water the garden.

It was an awesome lesson for the principal, Aurora, and her students who now understand more about circuits and wiring in a real life context.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Covered Wagon Maker/Design Challenge

Last week one of the STEAM teachers I work with weekly texted me and asked if I could find a Covered Wagon maker activity.  The great part of being an instructional coach is that the teachers call on me to do the leg work and research they do not have the time to do.  It is my goal to start by doing the research and activity creation to model for them.  As we are shifting pedagogy the teachers are overwhelmed and it is my job to take the fear out of the shift by creating, coaching, demonstrating, and collaborating with them.  As they build confidence, they will begin to slowly take over and start creating lessons on their own, but IT TAKES TIME.

Day 1:

  • we completed the Padlet (you have to let them play if it is their first time, just like manipulatives)
  • watched the video
  • read the articles 
  • collected information 
Day 2:
  • build the Covered Wagon
  • test how much weight they can hold
Day 3:

  • I'm going to add and application activity
  • I'm going to add a reflection activity

Here is what I created:  I have comments on the side to explain my process etc...

Monday, April 17, 2017

Introducing Makey Makeys

This week I will be working in many classrooms introducing Makey Makeys to our elementary students.  When introducing, I like to hand the student groups the Makey Makeys and then have them explore and figure out what to do or not do.  I like to force them to struggle and their teacher and I watch and reply: "I don't know" and "You can figure it out" when they ask questions about what to do.  Like many of my other STEAM activities, I created a simple HyperDoc to guide the students through the process.  I can push the document out on Google Classroom and the students can use it to guide their explorations.  In the following weeks we will be using the Makey Makeys to explore electrical circuits.  I'll share those explorations also.

CLICK HERE to view the Introduction to Makey Makey Activity HyperDoc

Have a great week!