Friday, July 22, 2016

Five Awesome Things Blogged About That I'm Definitely Going to Use Next Year (Month!)

After Twitter Math Camp, I came home to a blog feed flooded with great stuff...and that's not including the great TMC posts that have been popping up. It took me a few days to go through them all and sort them into favorite files: is it ed tech? Precalc? Misc? Here are some of the ones I loved that were not from TMC (those would be too many to post!)

1. At Math=LoveSarah used the MTBoS idea from @saravdwerf to make a Welcome sign that I am definitely stealing. And so did @MathByTori. Check out Tori's classroom decorations here.

2. I really like this projectile motion poster from @ScaffoldedMath that can be found here.

It's very pleasing to the eye, and I can see putting it in a google doc and placing text boxes for the answers so that students can type them in after making a copy.

3. I got the text box idea in a google doc from @MrsETeachesMath, blogged here, and I can't wait to try it. See her video below:

4. At Radical4math, see how Christie uses Explain Everything with 3 Act Math Tasks...this is a mash-up of two of my favorite things, which I've blogged about here and here.

5. And lastly, I am definitely going to try @TheAnswerPad from @AmyRoediger, which she blogged about here and I can't believe I haven't heard of yet! It looks great for formative assessment and for capturing student work...and it looks like you can easily broadcast student work to the entire class.
 What are some cool things you read about this week?

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

#TMC16 Reflections - My Virtual Math Department

Somehow I am supposed to come up with my #1TMCthing after attending #TMC16. I'm on the plane home (ok that's when I's a day later now), and I think the only way I can pick just one is to first blog about the amazing sessions I attended in a few sentences...and then pick. I am also typing this up for myself in an effort to remember it all and have a place to go back to when I need a refresher or a reminder. Oh the above picture? Just a new card sort from NBD. WHAT?? YBD!

I am so grateful that my school allowed me to attend Twitter Math Camp for a second year in a row, and I am so glad that I was able to share this experience gain with my friend and colleague @pursel1112. It's really important to go with someone from your school, in my opinion, because you can constantly bounce ideas off of each other and remind each other of what you can apply in the classroom throughout the year. I am so thankful that I got to meet and hang out with a great new group of colleagues for a week, and I learned SO much from them. It's incredibly cool to hang with people that do exactly what you do somewhere else, and to learn from them for a week is inspiring and maybe even life-changing...I know that sounds dramatic, but during the school year, when I live, eat, and breathe my job that I love, hearing from others that are like-minded gives reassurance that what I am doing is correct, tweaks things that I need to work on, and opens up my mind to a whole world of classrooms out there that were previously unknown to me. So here it goes...all of the awesomeness learned in a nutshell.

Pre-Conference: Desmos

I arrived a day early for the Desmos pre-conference, which was a fantastic start. I met the famous @ddmeyer and was a little starstruck. He said the mission of Desmos was not just for students to learn math but to love learning math. We learned two main things:

  • Desmos has a way to graph that will help those who are visually impaired or blind but using the command + F5 buttons. This will allow the user to hear what they are typing. Also, the option + T buttons will verbally trace the graph and the H button will allow you to "hear" the graph rise and fall.
  • Desmos will allow teachers to create card sorts, which is a nice addition to their activity builder that they unveiled last year at TMC15. Here is the card sort that I made on parent functions.
Desmos has changed the way we teach--teachers can create engaging activities that break up a lesson and can also collect information for formative assessments. With Dan, Eli, and Michael, etc., you cannot go wrong--teachers and students are their main focus. It's changing math classrooms all over the world to become more engaging and collaborative. And it's FREE. Who wouldn't want that?

And, and... desmos socks giveaway to participants of the Pre-Conference! Because who wants cold feet in Minnesota? Love!

BTW, this is where I met @RPhillipsMath courtesy of @lmhenry9. Lisa sent out an email asking if anyone needed a ride to the Twins game and if anyone could give people a ride to the game...and Becca offered, and this is where I first met her. More to come about Becca later!

Keynote: Sara Vanderwerf

Sara spoke about the art of evangelism, and how all teachers are evangelists as they share the "best with others who can benefit." She encourages us to allow all of our students (and their parents) to download the Desmos app on their phones for easy accessibility. She also brought her backward bike for everyone to try and see what it feels like to not be able to "get" something right away. I found her to be an excellent speaker and VERY inspiring.

Below is Sara's "graphing calculator museum" that she keeps in her classroom. She can tell a lot about the parents of her students by which calculator they go up to. Notice the abacus, slide rule, and even fingers pictures!

What follows next occurred over the next three days, and mostly (hopefully?) in order of when they were offered.

App Smack Down 

My morning session for two days, I went to a technology workshop called "App Smack Down." I learned how to use Quizzizz with my students, and I played around with a bunch of resources that I can use in the classroom like Padlet, Deltamath and IXL. Most importantly, I  learned about Pear Deck and Nearpod, and think I will use the latter to push out my notes to students and include online formative assessments. If Nearpod works for me, I will surely blog about it later. Here is where I met @DuffDuffMath, and she showed me a ton of great websites that she has already used. She was a pleasure to meet and hang out with!

Getting Triggy With It

@fouss taught us how to show kids what a radian is by using Smarties (the candy) and measuring out the radius with them, then the arc, then connecting the arc back to the center. I've done this with boring string. Why didn't I think of candy?? I had a good time with @SheriWalker72, who told me that in Canada, Smarties are a completely different candy, and that these candies are called Rockets there. Who knew?
Kristen then showed us how to use patty paper to draw special triangles on the unit circle so that it won't mess up the student's unit circle, but it will show them WHY the coordinates are what they are. What I really liked is that when they draw it for quadrant I, then can flip the patty paper over for quadrant II, etc., so they can really see that they only need to know the ordered pairs for quadrant I and then just reflect and/or rotate. I knew a lot of the activities that she did already, but these two reinforced what I do, and I will definitely use them next year. One participant also brought up the idea of a review game called "duck duck radian," which is like duck duck goose, but there are enough people in the circle to make up the angles in the unit circle, and one person goes around and says the radian where each person is sitting. When they want to, they say "radian" instead of "duck," and that person will get up and chase the other around the circle to try to beat them back to their seat. And the game continues.

Here is the link of all of Kristen's materials that she so kindly shared with us. 

Sam Shah's Mini-Explorations

@samjshah spoke at a "my favorite" about how he has his students complete 4 - 5 mini explorations on math topics that they discover and pick, and he counts them for a half of a test grade. He came up with a ton of awesome ideas on the website He gives a bonus if they don't write about something someone else did. I will definitely do this in at least one class next year. In fact, I did do it as an end of the semester project with my Honors Problem Seminar, but I did not have nearly the resources that Sam did. And it will be great to have them do several mini-projects that lead up to one big one at the end of the semester.  

Teaching Math On The Block

@lynlyndavis was a great resource for those of us who teach on the block. She talked about how she designs her lessons in this way:
  • bellringers - something that is less than 5 minutes that they should know how to do
  • warm-up - students explain and are engaged
  • instruction - students gather and process
  • application - here, students have "struggle time"
  • closure 
Allyn is young and is just the cutest and you can tell how she reaches all of her students with her bright smile, and yet you can also tell she does not let students get away with anything. More about Allyn later, too!

Keynote - Tracey Zager

@TracyZager did a fun problem: If a + b = 3 and ab = 1, can you find a^2 + b^2? This had us buzzing for a while and was fun. Then she gave us the problem:
What was very cool is how many totally different answers there were. I don't want to give away the answer, but find 100 solutions here. Her point was that elementary teachers think about math differently than high school teachers and with fewer rules. She encourages us to have our "elementary teachers talk to our upper school teachers and do problems with them to foster learning and more community between levels." She was really inspiring, funny, and awesome. She also talked about the importance of never forgetting "the close" at the end of a lesson. You can read more about her keynote here. Also, find 22 powerful closure activities here. 

Make It Stick

In this session, @TypeAMathLand summarized the book, which I read last year. It was a great refresher for me.
  • Retrieval: Quiz after learning and tell students to focus on what they don't know. Often they want to practice what they do know, not the hard stuff.
  • Reflection: Have students talk about the main idea and determine how it connects to what they already know. Also have them ask themselves, what can I improve on?
  • Spaced practice (opposite of cramming, or mass practice): Allows time for the brain to consolidate. Spiral homework to interrupt the forgetting cycle.
Anna suggests that we tell students how learning works (that it requires effort, involves setbacks, and isn't quick) and that solving a problem > memorizing a solution. She says that the easier something is, the less power it has for memory and that failing and making mistakes is necessary for learning. Errors are natural and the classroom needs to be safe to ask questions and that no one will be mocked for not understanding. 

Anna tells her students that you don't want the first time you're testing yourself to be on her test and that students often have an "illusion of knowing." She suggests having students write their own questions for a quiz or test and trade them. She also teaches students how NOT to study (don't just reread or cram), to which @LaneWalker2 said, if her students say they "looked things over," she asks them to say it backwards ("overlooked.") Anna said students may feel better after they cram or read over, but it's only temporary and it's not going to help your brain retain information. Very cool stuff and a must read if you haven't aready.

Variable Analysis Game 

@joelbezaire shared his favorite game complete with stickers. Here is a link to The Variable Analysis Game website and below is a video explaining it. It's a thoughtful way to get students to think about equations and patterns. I will definitely be using this!

3D Printing

Wow! was a wealth of information for anyone who has or is going to get a 3D printer. Below is a creation one of her students made by making the shape on Desmos. Her idea is to have students create these as magnets. I LOVE this. Here is her blog post on it, here is a link to her presentation with TONS of information, and here is a list of 3D print ideas. She also gave a great "my favorite" on engineering, but I was too busy texting someone at my school about what she was saying and did not write it down.
Heather also told us that an easy way to search MTBoS blogs without having to go through everything else in google is to use this: BIG time saver!

Planning For Differentiation

I went to this on day 3 because several people told me how great it was. And they couldn't have been more correct. Although I missed the first two days, I loved the ideas of an enrichment board and board that had folders for review that are labeled: written, concrete/visual, regular practice, game, and video. If students need more practice, they can go to this tri-folder, which @park_star easily places on a bulletin board shelf and then folds up between classes. I liked the idea of using a QR code to allow kids to work on these tasks electronically. I have to say, having missed the first two days of this workshop that I am in no way givive it justice. However, @DuffDuffMath took amazing notes from Day 3, shown below.

Keynote: Dylan Kane

@math8_teacher hit home by talking about this picture:
He said that deliberate practice is a task in which one is out of their comfort zone, where students are focused, involves feedback, and has well-defined goals. I have got to try Barbie Bungee, which I hear about all the time and regret not going to last year.

Dylan also stated that it's unprofessional to ask teachers to change > 10% a year, but it's also unprofessional to not expect teachers to change 10% a year. He posed the question, what will your 10% be? I'm still thinking. 

Go With The Flow

This is the second year that I went to @AlexOverwijk's session, and boy am I glad I did. Last year's card problem became my opening problem for my class this year. Alex talked about engaging tasks and puzzles, exactly what I love. He is a big fan of @pgliljedahl, and I wish I had the same opportunities as Alex to meet with him and learn from him. Alex spoke about flow, and the psychology of optimal experience in the classroom using visible random grouping and vertical non-perminant surfaces. Alex presented us with the Tax Man Problem, but with very little direction and it was almost all verbal. My group was a bit confused, but we had a member who really got the gist. We had a lot of fun with this problem, but we did not have time for every group to finish. We gathered together at the end to talk about the problem. One of the biggest take-aways I got was to switch someone who understands in a group with someone who doesn't. He said if you don't tell students how to do the problem, the problem will "pass around the room." He said to "defront" the room, which I liked as well. He suggested oral instructions only and one pen--whoever has the thought cannot write it. If a group gets the right answer, ask them a new question (an extension) and introduce doubt (insert Alex doubt face here.)

He also said that the sense of time is distorted in flow, meaning it feels like 10 minutes but it's been 50. An idea of flow that did not just involve a puzzle is using trig identities. Here is Alex's link to his slides, and you can find @pgliljedahl's presentations about flow here.

Flex Session: Favorite Problems

This was a great way to finish the conference, as I left before the last day of my favorites. Favorite Problems was run by @rdkpickle and @calcdave. The link I just listed has a few favorite problems that we worked on. It was nice to meet Rachel, and her enthusiasm for problem-solving was contagious, as was @jaz_math's! I worked again with @SheriWalker72, and it was fun to watch her solve The Locker Problem, which was the problem I offered. Perhaps even more fun was to try to solve this problem which is counterintuitive as the pattern does not go as planned... submitted by @suevanhattum:
On a circle, put some points. Connect each point to every other point with straight lines. How many regions are created for n points? (Check your prediction by working out the circle with 6 points.)


I left early and missed this, but watched @zimmerdiamonds share this "my favorite" via periscope. Break students up into groups and ask the youngest to be the scribe. I hope I am doing this justice as I watched it quickly at the airport. Ask students, as a group, to find a favorite book, a favorite movie, and a favorite game decided upon by the group. Afterward, on the back of the paper, give 60 seconds to list all the ways they used to work as a team to come up with the book, movie, and game. Then, make a list on the board from student volunteers. Compare team dynamics to teams in the real world, and have students share their answers to the rest of the class. Pure awesomeness to me!

Other Stuff

Outside of all of this learning and playing, there were a lot of things to do in the evening. 

  • The first night, we went to Republic for happy hour sponsored by Desmos. This was a nice way to meet and greet everyone I saw last year and all of the new people. Then we went to a Twins game, which was a lot of fun. This is where we got to hang with Becca and Allyn, and most people thought the four of us knew each other before. Becca's amazing and constant smile and Allyn's adorableness and love for cats of instagram bonded us immediately and made Liz and I feel immediately at home. This is where I met the fantastic @mathymeg07 with her infectious laugh, and she immediately realized that I was Lisa Lisa. 
  • The second night, we ventured out to the Mall of the Americas and had dinner at Dick's Last Resort, where the waitstaff is purposely rude and make you wear hats with random rude phrases on them. Very fun! We loved hanging with @KGruizenga and @riehlt as well.
  • The third night, we went to Republic again for a Trivia Game and treats sponsored by Mathelicious. Trivia was put on by our Montana contingency and was loads of fun and spent a lot of time laughing with @DuffDuffMath and @HondaKelsie
  • The fourth night, we ventured out to find the Mary Tyler Moore statue. We walked for maybe an hour trying to find it, only realizing that it was put in storage due to construction! But it was definitely a fun excursion, which included belly laughs with our friends Allyn and Becca and a train. Wish I had a link to that one. Maybe not...
Although it's over and we met great people, we decided that next year, we need to expand our group and meet even more from the MTBoS. It truly was like camp, and I can't wait to see everyone again next year. It's a huge effort to put this all together, and it was done so professionally and seemingly effortlessly by @lmhenry9 and a ton others. I feel invigorated and read to go again. Year 27, hear I come! It's hard to believe that I have been teaching approximately 0.55 of my life...yep a math problem, yet incredible to me. 

And for my #1TMCthing? Nope. Can't do it, won't do it. After finally finishing this blog, for me at least, it's a #10^10TMCthing. And then some. 

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Plexer of the Day as a Class Opener

Do you know what a "plexer" is?  Here is the one I always put up on the first day of school:

Do you get it?

Just in case, the answer to the plexer is "Welcome Back," since it's the word "welcome" spelled backwards.

A plexer, also known as a "rebus" is a "representation of words in the form of pictures or symbols, often presented as a puzzle" according to

I used to put a puzzle up on the board every day. Kids would run into my room in the morning to see if they could be the first to get it. Even students who no longer had me would come in to see if they could figure it out. Often, I would think they would be coming in to say hello, but their eyes would go right past me to the board in a fierce stare and in deep thought until they would shout the answer in glee. There would even be some students who would look through the windows on their way to the bathroom in the middle of their other classes!

But, last year I stopped (see "why I hate plexers," below) and instead did some as "brain breaks" in our new 90-minute block sessions. Here was the first brain break I gave:

Spoiler alert, here are the answers, clockwise.

Three degrees below 0
Long time, no c
Family ties
Adding insult to injury


  • Kids walk into class immediately thinking
  • Students are exposed to a new way of thinking
  • Students who can't get them at all in the beginning of the year tend to get much better by the end--growth mindset is really cool here!
  • Lots of smiles and often groans at the corny answers
  • Students learn some old phrases that they never heard of before (i.e., what does "adding insult to injury mean"?)
  • ESOL students that are in my class learn new phrases
  • There is a sheer and genuine excitement for them. It's almost like they are in lower school again. 
  • Some students write them down to share with their family - so cute!
  • They take up time during class
  • Students who come in late or were in the bathroom at the beginning of class (or during the 5 minutes of passing before class) often distract the class by shouting out the answer as they walk in--this needs to be addressed early on
  • It's time-consuming to come up with the perfect plexers that everyone understands (not too old-fashioned) and that's hard but not too hard and easy but not too easy, haha
  • You have to remember to write it up every morning (oh they will harass you if you don't!) or every afternoon at the end of the day for the next day
  • Last year I was in two classrooms and I didn't want to write it twice
But after a year without them, I miss them. I'm going back to them. And trust me, they are super fun. But, as Sara Vanderwerf wrote about when she shared her awesome 5x5 game, if you teach at my school and never used them before, please don't start to use them now--because students come into my class already knowing the answers and it ruins the fun. 

There are SOOOO many resources out there. Google "plexers with answers" or click here for Pinterest links. I am home right now and have a ton at school that I wrote in a notebook so that I would be prepared every day, but here are some to get you through the year:
This was from but is no longer listed there.

Here are some terrific links:

Some great printables from
One from

A fun assignment is to have students make some up. This is especially good in May when you run out!

In addition, I purchased the red and blue purchased books from Dale Seymour way before online purchasing (yikes), and here they are on Amazon for you to buy.

Plexers are also really fun to give on Back to School Night. Parents love them! Find the one below, by the heart.

Plexers are great class openers. If you are looking for something to do during the last 5 minutes of class when you have some time, I blogged about the Set Daily Puzzle about two years ago. Click on the link to see the fun! Many students love this game, too.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Summer Packets for Pre-Calculus and Algebra 2 Honors

Last summer I blogged about saving time at the beginning of the year in my "Are you ready for Pre-calculus?" post. At the end of this year, my department decided for the first time ever to assign a summer packet in all of its math classes (other than electives and IB) so that we could try to ensure that students in the same class were (hopefully) all in the same place at the beginning of the year. Again, we hope to save some review time and then get into some meatier problem-solving. We figure students will spend about 2 - 3 hours on the packet, reviewing skills from last year. We do get a number of students from other countries since about 20% of our students board, and so this should alleviate some of the past problems we have had with placement.

I am linking my "Are you ready for Pre-Calculus AB?" and "Are you ready for Algebra 2 Honors?" summer packets and answers through drop box below. Note that they are somewhat similar because of the nature of the two courses. Pre-Calculus AB is our accelerated Pre-Calculus class, and we just renamed it for next year. We noticed many other schools use the "AB" at the end of Pre-Calculus to denote that students in this class are being prepared to take AP Calculus AB upon completion (with a good grade.)

Are You Ready for Algebra 2 Honors? Summer Packet

Are You Ready for Pre-Calculus AB? Summer Packet

In the packet, there are links to videos and page numbers in the textbooks that we use as references.

The texts we use are:
Larson's Algebra and Trig 9e for Algebra 2 Honors, and
Larson's PreCalculus with Limits 3e for Pre-Calculus

A quick peek of the Algebra 2 Honors summer packet is below.