Posted in Algebra 1, Algebra 2, Education, Mathematics, Precalculus

## Day 3: Balancing Noah’s Ark

Day three was all about working together. Whenever I have used groups in the past, there were always students who were not working, students having side conversations, and students who just did not seem to get along with those in the group. I wanted to do an activity that would model the ideals of good teamwork. Development of the skills required for effective collaboration takes practice. We are so busy trying to hit our content standards, that we don’t always recognize the value of spending time teaching “soft skills” such as communication and teamwork. As a result, these skills are often lacking in many professional working environments.

I decided to use Sara VanDerWerf’s 100 Numbers task. I put the students in groups of four, and gave them 3 minutes for the first round. When the round was finished, I asked each group to tell me how many numbers they had found. I wrote their numbers on the board and we discussed possible ways to improve their speed. I told them that for the next round, they would only have two minutes. As soon as I said it, they all immediately started moving their desks as close as possible and leaning in toward the center of the group, ready for the next challenge.

After the second round, nearly all of the groups had improved. There was even one group that found all 100 numbers! I then had them make three columns on a sheet of paper. In the first column, I wanted them to write down words that describe what an effective group looks like. In the second column, I asked them to describe what an effective group sounds like. And in the third column, they were to describe what an effective group feels like. I let them talk for a few minutes, and then as a class, we had a quick discussion of the qualities of effective group work. I projected a picture of the class that I had taken while they were working. They were quite shocked that they did not even notice me taking pictures. I asked them if the students in the picture looked focused, determined, and engaged. It was clear that they were.

Since we still had about 20 minutes left in class, I told the class that I wanted to try to apply our new group norms to a math problem. I gave each group a copy of Fawn Nguyen’s Noah’s Ark problem and gave them the remainder of the time to work on it in their groups. All of my classes were 100% engaged and focused on the problem. Effective group work looked amazing, sounded amazing, and felt amazing.

Posted in Algebra 1, Algebra 2, Mathematics, Precalculus

## Day 1: Three Things…

Another first day is in the books. I do this every year and every year I wonder how I am going to make it through the year. It was so much fun, but so exhausting.

This year, I decided to use the first 3 days to establish some norms in the classroom. We really didn’t do any math; but the things we discussed were well worth the time invested. Rather than have a plain old discussion about class norms, I decided to make it a little different.

First, I told the class that there are 3 things that we will do in this math classroom that most other math classes DO NOT do. I told them that it was their job to figure this out, and the clues would come in the form of music. I told them I was looking for three action words, and to listen closely to the words in each of the 8 songs that I had prepared.

One by one, I played clips of different songs that included the words read, write, and fight. Every single person was engaged. They danced in their seats, wrote notes, and did some lip syncing. And best of all, I could “see” the active listening as they were straining to hear some of the words.

When the music was over and they had guessed the three words, we talked about reading and writing in math class. We talked about how we weren’t actually going to “fight” in class, but “debate” instead (you try finding songs with the word “debate” in them).  We discussed respectful disagreement and comfortable spaces. And I did it in all of my classes, including honors.

Did we “do” any math problems? No. Did the students hit any of the CCSS? No. Did I lose 50 minutes of “instructional time?” Probably. Was it worth spending the time? Absolutely.

Posted in Algebra 1, Education, Mathematics

## A Good Student

“What characteristics do YOU think make a good student?” It was a question posed by one of my students during a class discussion this week. Their definition of a good student: someone who is smart, responsible, respectful, diligent, and helpful to others. A good student is on the honor roll. A good student avoids “bad” people and “bad” choices. That was their definition. My definition?

One of the best students that I’ve ever had was in one of my algebra classes. He was quiet at first, and rarely spoke to me. Algebra was difficult for him; he seemed to struggle through every problem. The situation was incredibly frustrating, because he demanded so much individual attention. When the term started, he would not work a single problem on his own. He asked me to help him with EVERY SINGLE PROBLEM. Knowing that I could not keep this up for the entire term, I began pushing him to do some of his work on his own.

Every day became a fight. Every time he asked me a question, I answered him with another question. Every time he told me that he couldn’t do a problem, I assured him that he could. I refused to give him straight-up answers. He would cuss and throw down his pencil.

He ended up struggling through the term, earning a C in the class. At the beginning of the next term, he came to see me and showed me his new schedule. He was no longer in my class. He told me that there was no way he would make it through the next term. I looked him in the eye, shook my head in disbelief, and said,

“You will be fine. You don’t need me. Look – your name is on the hero board. You probably didn’t even notice it. Do you know why your name is on that board? It’s because you fought. You came here every day, and you fought. You got frustrated, but you fought. You failed, but you continued to fight. You got angry at me, but you didn’t run. You stayed in the fight. And because you stayed in the fight, you won. And now you will do whatever you have to do to win the next fight. I know that you will not need me. But if you ever think that you do, you know where to find me.”

A good student may not be on the honor roll. He might not always be respectful or helpful. He may be confrontational, rude, and short-tempered. He has serious academic deficiencies. He’s been in jail multiple times, and has a one-year-old baby at the age of 18. He missed an entire term after being shot. He failed. He struggled. But he fought. And despite the circumstances, he won. As I watched him walk across the stage at his graduation, I remember thinking that I would certainly miss such a good student.

Post submitted to the Virtual Conference of Mathematical Flavors.