Another Grade Follow-Up AND Equations Around the World!

So, after the quiz grades, here’s what I did. I gave them a worksheet that basically asked “What went wrong?” They individually analyzed their own work, and tried to put into words why they lost points for each question. It was good for a few reasons. One: it was individual. Two: it made them get over the initial shock of a bad grade. So, the student who immediately threw his on the floor, declaring he was stupid was forced to take a closer look. And you know what he found? Careless errors. Things in the questions he just didn’t pick up on. So, he felt silly for making those mistakes but didn’t feel stupid at math. Score!

Then after looking at the responses, the majority of responses were “I didn’t understand the question.”  Or “I thought the question meant…” The next day we spent time analyzing questions. READING math. We talked about looking for anything to start with. Does it say make a table? Great! Start there. Even if you don’t know the variables to put in the table, you can at least set it up. Draw the lines at least. Now, you’ve started, and when I look at it I can tell you put some thought into it. You did something! The test is tomorrow. We’ll see how that goes.

Equations Around the World

Many times, I’ve thought that I don’t have many exciting lessons to share, but there is an activity I use to review skills that I thought would be fun to share. I call it Equations Around the World, but you can insert any skill you need. It works best with skills that have clear answers. So you could use it with simplifying, adding, any sort of computation, or anything with a beginning and end. Even vocab could work.

Here’s how it works. There are several cards around the room that look like this:Image

The students can pick any card to start with. They open it up and see this:


They solve that equation and the answer is on the front of another card. Once you find the answer, go to that card, open it up and solve that equation. Continue this until you end up with the card you started with. Can’t find your answer? Then you made a mistake. Go back, check your work and do it again.  The students like it because it gets them up and moving. They get practice without having to look at a board or at a book, and I get to just follow them around, see how they’re doing and answer any questions. I usually get more questions than usual during this activity. I think students are more likely to ask questions when the atmosphere seems more casual.  One word of warning to teachers who are making one of these: It doesn’t work if you have the same answer more than once. So make sure each problem has a unique answer. Happy solving!


Another day, another grade.

I just finished grading a quiz from my Pre-Algebra students. I was hopeful when they were taking it that they were doing well. I let them use their notes for this (I did not tell them this ahead of time). And, to my surprise, those that had taken notes, were using them very effectively! They were asking good, clarifying questions, and I could point to examples, etc in their notes to help them. Students were working hard, and very few gave up. Woo hoo!

So the result is about half of them got B’s and A’s and the other half, F’s. No middle ground. There could be a million reasons for this. Maybe I graded it strangely. Many some questions were worth too many points, and others not enough. Maybe some students take terrible notes, or none at all and have not learned as much as I thought they did. Maybe it wasn’t the math, but the reading on the test that gave them trouble. Maybe this, maybe that. Maybe I don’t have as good a read on them as I thought. I could go on forever.

But I need to focus on what to do. What do I do with this information? I always allow corrections to be made, because I want the students to learn. But I get the feeling that half of them can’t make corrections because they don’t know what went wrong. So, maybe we’ll do them together, and then take a retake.

I’d also like to do some sort of student reflection and hear from them. I’ve tried to do this in the past and it never really gives my the info I want. I need some help with what questions to ask them.

This definitely changes how I approach the next unit. I need to be more in tune with my students, without giving quiz after quiz after quiz. I need to give them more opportunities to show me what they know. To show me how they’re doing. This isn’t a very inspirational post, or very helpful to anyone but me. Just doing a little reflecting on my own to get my thoughts in order. Thanks for listening, internet world.

I’m trying to notice!

This week, I tried out my first Problem of the Week from The Math Forum thanks to their free trial. I have been reading about these from other people and their awesome experiences with them so I wanted to get in on the game. 

I started with “You think you’re teacher is tough?” I like the idea of “I notice, I wonder” and figured it was just what my students need. My students, as I’m sure many others, just look for the question, look for some numbers and just start doing math. They don’t re-read, they don’t analyze, they don’t think about the situation, they just want to find an answer and be done. I took the suggestion of how to start out, and took out the question and just posted the situation. I then asked the students to write down something they noticed. I was faced with a ton of blank stares, so I tried to explain what that meant. This was way more difficult than I thought because I didn’t want to give a ton of examples. I wanted them to think for themselves. I think I ended up saying something like “Anything that comes to your mind when you think about this situation.” That seemed to work a little better. After a few minutes, we shared and got some really interesting “notices.” Obvious ones, funny ones, deeper thinking ones, etc. Good. This was good.

We then moved on to “I wonder.” This was easier, and also provided many good questions and discussion. We were really discussing the situation, taking it apart, having fun, making sure we understood, questioning each other. It was pretty great.

Then I finally gave them the question. Cue the Darth Vader music. It was like I had asked them to take every book in the library, move them outside and then back in again. All of the inquiry, engagement, interest went right out the window. Very few students were willing to try anything, write anything down or discuss with their peers. It was a little devastating. Throughout the week, I did this with each group with the same result. With much prodding, I did get them to find the answer.

I can’t figure it out. Everyone said these PoW are so engaging and students love to get to work on them, and their interesting and fun. Not for my students. Ask them to actually do any work, forget it. Was it the problem I picked? Was it my delivery? Was it the fact that their 8th graders? Was it the fact that they are not used to teachers encouraging them to solve problems with any means possible? Were they uncomfortable with the openness of it? Was it the fact that this was not actual math class, but workshop block? (Workshop is designed to give teachers a chance to do something enriching, out of our normal curriculum. Most students think of it as “free time” no matter what we tell them or ask them to do.)

I’m going to try another one. I still have faith that these problems, and “I notice, I wonder” will help them. I think.

Why am I doing this?

I was always good at math. But never really liked it. All of my math teachers starting in middle school would encourage me to join the math team, or become a math teacher, but that is not what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a hair dresser, then a concert pianist, then a teacher. A teacher of little kids. Elementary kids. So that’s what I went to college for. However, unlike most of my elementary ed counterparts, I didn’t take the recommended math courses. I took the math major math courses. I like to be challenged, and Calculus II was definitely a challenge!

I decided I wanted to try out middle school for my student teaching. Who voluntarily teaches middle school? Me. So, I ended up teaching 6th grade math. And I discovered a wonderful world. I LOVED middle schoolers. Middle schoolers are really the best. They are fun to joke with, keep me informed of the latest trends, and are a perfect mix of “I’m too cool for this” and “I love stickers!” I LOVED teaching math. I love the challenge of explaining something in a way that relates to their life. Who knew? I then went on to get my master’s degree in math education. I guess all my teachers were right.

My first teaching job landed me in 5th grade, mostly teaching reading. Then 4th grade for 4 years, teaching everything until we finally departmentalized and I taught math, science and social studies. It was a step in the right direction, but I wanted to be in middle school. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed my days in elementary school too. Some of the best accidentally inappropriate spelling errors come from elementary school. Here’s what I learned teaching 4th grade. Classroom management. Record keeping. All of that stuff you can’t learn in college.

My husband and I moved back to our hometown, and the first job I got was as a part-time math tutor at my husband’s former middle school. So close! Next year, a long-term sub job in 8th grade, then they hired me for real for the 8th grade position, and here I am today.

So, why do I love it? Why do I do it? Because I really believe that everyone can do math. EVERYONE. A student told me today “The only reason I like math this year is because of you, Mrs. Freitas.” WIN! So, there’s hope. If I can make math tolerable for students who have previously hated it, then that makes me happy. It should not be acceptable to say “I’ve never been good at math.” My response to that: You just had the wrong teachers. I’m not going to be that teacher.