Sunday, December 24, 2017

Six Good Things in 2017 #MTBoS12days

I saw Pam's Yule Blog Challenge and decided it was time to write about the good things that are going on this year in my classroom, 2017.

Escape Rooms - in and out of the classroom. 

1. My department purchased a Breakout Edu box, and my Honors Problem Solving Seminar students "broke out" twice this semester, once in the beginning of the semester and once at the end. I have to say that most students loved these challenges, and I plan to do it in my Algebra 2 Honors classes at the beginning of second semester. We ended the semester by going to a local escape room for a field trip. We had a blast!!

Play Table. Again. 

2. I have always had a few puzzles laying around my classroom for students to pick up and touch, but this year, I have a play table. I think the biggest hit has been Connect Four because it brings back some childhood memories for students...however, the cool thing is that now that kids are older, they are really understanding the strategies behind winning the game. Students also love the metal Tavern Puzzles (for lack of a better name...I believe they were played in taverns back in the day), where they have to separate what seems like one piece into two.


3. My period G class falls at the end of the day. At first, this class came in quite sleepy and not as engaged. I always find that my least engaged students become my most engaged students at the end of the year. I think it's because I work harder at getting them motivated, but who knows. Anyway, we started talking about the viral game HQ and played once during our brainbreak. What a hit. While we can't play a lot (what could really be a 2 minute game can easily turn into 20 minutes with the commentary of my new fave Scott Rogowsky), I thought it was worthy to donate to the MS Society and have Scott do a cameo video for the class...SO FUN!!

"Breakfast Club"

4. My Mu Alpha Theta students have been peer tutoring a lot (I require 10 hours a year), but we have been holding a special session on Thursday mornings called "Breakfast Club." I got the idea from Sarah's post about Cookie Club. Math teachers don't offer extra help Thursday mornings, so I pick up donuts and about 10 - 15 of our members either help each other or are available to help any students who pop in. We've averaged only about 3 non-club member students a week, but it is a start. My officers want to continue it next semester. My classroom is not centrally located so we may move it to a better location, such as the new Entrepreneurial Center. However, no food is allowed there so we may need to rename the club! In February, the club will be hosting its first Math Games Night for either the Lower School, the Middle School, or both...stay tuned!! I'm very proud of my officers this year!

3D Printers

5. Our school bought three 3-D printers, and I'm excited about the prospect of having students create. I am not sure I want to sacrifice my conics project on Desmos, and it's too late to do something with parent functions, like what I read about in Heather's post, but I am psyched for the future. I am hoping to get John Stevens to do a workshop for us. Stay tuned on this as well!

Former Students

6. This is the time of year when former students come back to visit. What a treat! It's great to hear what they are up to. I love seeing the babies or marriages on Facebook, or just getting a quick rundown in person. I have one former student that I closely consider to be the daughter I never had. We see each other maybe once a year (she lives across the country), but we catch up here and there with a quick text or through social media. She was one of those students who laughed at every joke and whose eyes lit up during that lesson that you prayed would work. I taught her in Algebra 2, and she quickly rose to the top, getting A's on her exams and skipping over the next math class to get directly into Pre-Calculus. I actually first met her during her freshman year, on our Pathfinder school trip. I was trying to roll up my sleeping bag to fit in this impossibly small bag (something my husband always does for me), and to no avail, I could not do it. She quickly earned the name "Macgyver" as she rolled it up in about a second and proudly displayed the sleeping bag in its case, holding it by the string.

We have kept in touch ever since. Perhaps the hardest time seeing her after she graduated was when she flew back for a classmate's untimely death. The funeral was unbearable, for a life lost too soon. He was one of her best friends, and we still talk about his antics. That was a sad day, indeed.

I caught up with her last week, listening to her delightful stories of rubbing elbows with stars in LA (I am easily starstruck). It was a lovely start to winter break.

These are just a few of the cool things going on this year. Nothing remarkable. Which is just the way I like it.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

An Untraditional Route for a Veteran Math Teacher--What's Next?

Every year I think I'm going to slow things down and start saying "no." And every year, I think I take on more.

I see the parallel in my son's life, a sophomore in college. Each time he thinks he can't handle anymore, someone comes to him with an amazing opportunity, and he can't say no. The apple doesn't fall far, I guess.

I have been teaching high school mathematics for 28 years now. No year is like the last, so in that respect, nothing is ever boring. However, in the last few years, I have been feeling "what else?" Don't get me wrong...I love my job and love how Twitter and MTBoS have changed my teaching exponentially, as my department has grown from 10 people in the classrooms next door to me to thousands (tens of thousands?) globally. But, 28 years is a long time to be in the same career...from what I hear, most people change jobs 7 times...and though I changed schools once, I've been teaching some of the same topics every year, 3 or 4 times a year, for 28 years (completing the square, anyone??)


Six years ago, I started a Mu Alpha Theta chapter in my school, and that kept the fire in my soul, in addition to teaching. I love it, and that was really just what I needed to keep things the same yet different. It gave me a new outlook each day, something more to look forward to. Again, I look forward to teaching my students each day, but I can't help the feeling I had that something was missing. Advising this amazing group was the antidote.

Honors Problem-Solving Seminar

Then, three years ago, I began teaching the elective Honors Problem-Solving Seminar. It was just something different and new, and what I LOVE about it is that we can stop the curriculum and talk about a cool problem or video that just came out (I'm biased and love TED-Ed riddles). This never happens in math. I envied history teachers for years, as they could talk about current events, and I know someone out there can say we can relate a math problem to the real-world and talk about current events, but for me at least, it does not come up organically. It comes up organically every day in problem-solving because I'm not constantly focusing on finishing a curriculum to ensure that next year's teacher finishes the curriculum to ensure that students pass their BC Calculus class the year after, etc. Whew. I'm exhausted just thinking about it.

This year, Honors Problem-Solving Seminar is going strong. The students are all motivated, and best of all, they are funny. They thrive on humor and get excited when I give them just about any problem. Their final exam is to make a Numberphile or Vi Hart type video on any of the following topics:

TED-Ed Class

Next semester, rather than teach a second section of this class, I will be teaching a TED-Ed class. Instead of holding a traditional TED-Ed club after school (because I advise Mu Alpha Theta and JSU already), we will be having it as a class. This is new for me and I'm both frightened and excited. But I feel like this is exactly what I am supposed to be doing next. 

I love the quote: Do something every day that scares you. Yep, that's me! 🙋🏻

I am a mathematics teacher and truly hate public speaking. But I'm a TED-ED Innovative Educator (the only math teacher, I believe), and I have learned how to cultivate the best in my students. So while I do not like to speak publicly, I will show how, through the amazing TED-Ed modules, to give students a "voice with choice"--in other words, what are they passionate about? What is their idea worth spreading?

What is next up for me? I'm proposing that we host a local TEDx event, something I do not know much about. However, there are so many people out there who want to help and have helped tremendously. So in 5 months, we may actually have our students, at all grade levels (we have TED-Ed clubs starting in the Middle and Lower schools), do their very own TED talk in our brand new 180-seat theatre. This is so exciting to me! 

Someone asked me when they heard about it, are YOU giving a TED talk? No, that's not the point. At least not now. This is and always has been about opportunities to showcase our students, not ourselves. 

Our students have so much to say. Much of it could be bottled up and much of it students don't even know how to tap into. But now they will have their own voices and a platform. 

Maybe this is my calling? Well, math teaching was and is my calling...but it's time for something else. And what I love is that I'm not giving up my math teaching...I'm adding to it, in a way that is global and that allows for students to grow. And maybe, just maybe, a student will talk about their love of math at our TEDx event. And then my two worlds will collide.

What's next for you? 

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans

This is one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite movies. It's from John Lennon's "Beautiful Boy," and I remember it from Mr. Holland's Opus. From what I recall, Mr. Holland, played by Richard Dreyfuss (supposedly a very distant cousin of my husband's), "sings" it to his deaf son in sign language...I believe after refusing to really acknowledge his son much at all since music was Mr. Holland's "thing." Ah what a great movie.

But I digress. I had big plans this week/weekend. I am only one week into school, and I am just at that sweet spot where the kids are starting to open up and trust you. My Mu Alpha Theta officers made an amazing promo video to show to the entire school that was funny and cool and full of geeky but great Rubik's Cubes and "marker drops." I had a plan to begin yoga teacher training this weekend, something I have been wanting to do for years, and the stars finally "aligned" (and my studio's owner and the manager gave me the extra push I needed.) My son is back up at UF, and while last year was trying at the beginning, he is now in a good place, happy and satisfied, and just got a major research project that he had been patiently vying for since April. I got back on track eating-wise and health-wise after a summer of gorging on processed foods made with sugar and flour since I was lucky enough to travel most of the summer and try all these new treats made with them. All sounds good, right?

And then...the hurricane. Irma, I'm talking about you. As I look at the window at this beautiful Florida sky, I cannot believe that within 48 hours, I am not sure if I will have a house with a roof on it. Perhaps I should be packing things up and trying to keep things dry, but I am frozen. I am doing just what my husband tells me to do: clean out the closet at the bottom of the stairs for a "safe space," go to the pet store, etc. I truly am completely frozen. And a bit petrified.

Why wouldn't I leave? Well, I have been through a few hurricanes before. It's been rough, and at least we do get a warning. I can't answer why I don't want to leave. We don't have hurricane shutters. It's crazy, I know. It was so expensive so we never got them. And after last year's scare with Matthew (which turned last minute, thankfully), we vowed to get them this year...but we...forgot??? How?? We live in a townhouse with a house on either side and are somewhat protected. We are praying for the best.

On this gorgeous Florida day, school is closed so families could prepare and leave. One family told me they were flying to Canada. Another to Colombia. Many are "buttoning up" their houses and leaving. But I'm going to stay. My son is safe in Gainesville, so I am feeling good about that. Most of my family is husband and two cats, my sister-in-law and brother-in-law down the road, my other brother-in-law around the corner, and my mother-in-law also down the road...I will stay with her when it gets really bad, but my husband wants to stay with the house and the animals.

So, Irma has other plans for me this week. No "method of finite differences" for my Problem Solving kids after spending several days on figurate numbers. No reviewing for the second quiz (first quiz was on prerequisites) for Algebra 2H and Pre-Calculus AB. No showing of the awesome Mu Alpha Theta promo video in the all-school assembly. No Back to School night (I'm OK with this one!) No weekend of yoga. And I know it will be matter what, we have insurance and we will figure it out. And if you haven't been to one, a hurricane party is always fun :)

Sunday, August 6, 2017

My Goals

I'm a few hours late with the #MTBoS blog initiative this week for #SundayFunday, which is to write about my goals, but I do want to jump on the bandwagon so that I can think through what I want to set out for next year.

Math (i.e, teaching) Goals: 

(I noticed after I wrote them that they really don't apply much to math at all, but more about making students feel even more comfortable in class.)

Goal 1: After listening to Susan Cain's Ted Talk on the Power of Introverts, I am convinced that not all students ALWAYS have to work in groups. She claims that many students are introverts who do better when they can think and work on their own. I am going to really make note of this as well as having students think on their own while solving a problem FIRST (cue this tweet:)

I need to teach this skill and have students (especially in Problem-Solving, but all classes really) know it's NOT okay to blurt the answer (I need to have WAIT time and not tell them the answer so fast, too.) I have been a big proponent of vertical non-permanent surfaces (#VNPS), and my classroom is supposed to have more board space when I walk in next week, so if some kids do not want to always work in groups when up at the boards or in their pods, I have to be okay with that and support them, too.

Goal 2: I love this post from Megan Hayes-Golding,  Perfect Teacher Move to Support LGBTQ Students. Here is a snippet.
It really got me to think, if we could all just do one small thing to make all of our students just a little bit more comfortable, wouldn't you do it? I am going to try to go out of my way to make a student like Ev feel good. It might make the difference for one student. 

Goal 3: Last year, I had some games set up on the back table: Towers of Hanoi puzzles and Rubik's Race. My kids loved them and played them during Brain Breaks and before and after school/class. My goal is to have more kids playing next year. 
After reading Sara Vanderwerf's post on You Need a Play Table in Your Math Classroom, I bought these spiraling pentagons to leave on the back table for play. 

Play Goals:

Goal 1: I am going to get my yoga certification this fall, which will be fantastic and crazy all at the same time. I will basically be giving up entire weekends for 6 weeks, but I am looking forward to growing with the group I am going to be working with. And it will help me to heal as I am feeling the pain of my childhood best friend, who was diagnosed with ALS last year. Here is her blog, which is beautiful and unbelievably written, but also hard to read. She is so raw, and she blows me away with her strength and the things she notices.

Goal 2: I am hoping to go for a walk at night after dinner and listen to some podcasts. I finished my first podcast ever, S-Town, and now I'm listening to Serial. I'm also listening to some other ones, such as the one from Grammar Girl and others. I'm new to Podcasts and am a bit overwhelmed with all of the options! I also hope to listen to them in the car to and from work on most days.

Eat Goals:

Last year, I lost 15 lbs which was amazing. I've put some of it back on, so I hope to go back to the healthy diet I was following when the pounds came right off. It's 80% diet, 20% exercise for me, so now that I am finished with vacation and eating whatever I wanted (pretty much), I am hoping to get back on track!

Monday, July 31, 2017

How to Start a Ted-Ed Club in your School

From Ted-Ed Clubs: We want every student in the world to share an idea on the TED platform (because, quite frankly, we need help figuring some stuff out -- like redefined gender roles and feline Batman conspiracies).

As a Ted-Ed Innovative Educator, Cohort 3, I am lucky enough to have started a Ted-Ed club in my fact, I am super excited to teach it as a class second semesterl!!

BUTTTT don't be scared that this is a daunting's not...I promise! Ted-Ed has the entire curriculum ready for you to use (you get it once you get approved), and you only have to meet weekly, or whenever you can as a club.

TED is looking for fresh new student voices to share from the TED stage. Our student voice initiative, TED-Ed, is launching the TED-Ed Clubs Challenge to surface student stories from around the world. So far, more than 25,000 students have given TED-style talks in their schools and communities through TED-Ed Clubs. We are inviting students, ages 8-18, to share what they would say if the world were listening, and we want to include your answer!

Sign up for a quick video chat to learn more. You’ll speak directly with a member of the TED-Ed team to learn everything you need to know about the Challenge and how to get involved with this awesome global community. TED-Ed has asked that you mention my name, LISA WINER, when you sign up. As a TIE, this will hopefully get you through the process a little faster. I went to the TED Weekend event last year, where kids were invited to give their talk based on their TED-Ed Club TED Talk...and it was absolutely amazing to see what OUR kids can do!!

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Questions? Email me at

TED-Ed Club Resources:

  1. TED-Ed Clubs: Celebrating and amplifying student voices around the world video:

  1. What would you say if the world was listening video:

Monday, June 19, 2017

Cambridge Teaching Seminar and MathsConf10 - My Summer of Professional Development

I'm procrastinating packing for Europe. I'll be traveling for about three weeks without my son or my husband - mostly alone. Doing what? Well certainly traveling to countries that I have never been to, but the main reason for my trip is to attend two workshops in England: The day-long Complete Maths workshop (MathsConf10) in Rainham, London and the week-long Oxbridge Teacher Seminar entitled "Thinking Mathematically" in Cambridge. I am using my Patten Family Foundation Grant for Sustaining Teacher Excellence to fund most of the trip as well as a fellowship I received from Oxbridge.

I'm super excited because Jo Morgan (her award-winning blog is will be meeting me at the train station and will help me to navigate to Rainham the morning of MathsConf10, and then I will be taking workshops on:

Exploding Dots (WATCH THE ANIMATION!!),
Using Art in the Math Classroom from @c0mplexnumber,
Cambridge Math Espressos: Filtered Maths Education Research, just to name a few.

Also included in this workshop:
  • Speed Dating: sharing your favorite maths idea with others
  • "Tweet-ups" during lunch
  • Maths Cakes competition (unfortunately, I won't be able to bring one across the pond, but I will post pictures, I'm sure!)
After this workshop, I will take a train to Paris to visit a friend and to do an in"Seine" day tour of basically every site there. I didn't mention that the day I land, I will be doing the same thing in London. It will be a whirlwind few days, but then when I arrive back in London, I will be going on a tour of Stonehenge, Bath, and Windsor Castle. I've got tickets to Kinky Boots, and I do get some time to just discover a bit. 

I have a day planned to go to Bletchley Park, or "Home of the Codebreakers," which is where Alan Turing and his team cracked the Enigma Code. (The movie The Imitation Game is based on this.) We talk about this in Problem-Solving, and I really want to thank Jo Morgan for encouraging me to go to this. I think it will be great, and I can't wait to bring all I learned back to my students.

The next day, I travel to Cambridge for the weeklong seminar Thinking Mathematically. 
This seminar sounds super exciting because although it is mathematical, it sounds more humanities based, and therefore I will be using my right side of the brain in addition to the left. There will be talks on Brexit, the Cambridge system, how to re-read literature and why, readings with a poet laureate, how poets ended slavery, Oliver Cromwell and more, as well as a viewing of an outdoor Shakespeare play and of course, daily 4:00 pm tea. I'm sure there will be lots of networking here as well. 

Following this seminar, I will be lucky (as in, luck of the Irish) to meet my mother-in-law and sister-in-law for a few days in Ireland, as they were already planning a visit. 

I do feel lucky. I hope to post more about the math ideas I will have learned in the next few weeks.

By the way, the picture below is of our new Bengal kitten, Arthur, who has a knack for knowing exactly when I'm working and therefore when to plop himself right down on me when I'm doing so. (One of these days I'm expecting him to send unfinished emails as he is also always walking along my keyboard!)
Here's to summertime! Though I won't have the typical amount of summertime at home with my family, I am excited about this once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I'm so thankful to my family for being so supportive and for my school for providing me this amazing experience. 

Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Case of the Missing Fractals

I happened upon this 2014 lesson called The Case of the Missing Fractals when I was looking for something else, and wow what a gem! I am definitely going to share it with my students next year. One year I was lucky enough to start talking about fractals in my Pre-Calculus Honors class. I posed the question, what fractal will have 0 area as the number of iterations goes to infinity? And then,  and what fractal will have infinite perimeter as the number of iterations goes to infinity? This Ted-Ed lesson explains exactly that in a very cute way. Kids will be hooked as gumshoe "Manny Brot" answers riddles about fractals.

The "Dig Deeper" section in the lesson has terrific links, including another Ted-Ed lesson about Flatland shown below:
There are so many great lessons on, and you can customize them as you see fit. 

What great Ted-Ed lessons have you found and used in your math classroom?

Saturday, May 20, 2017

DIY "Owl Miss You" Candy Jars for Graduates

Mason Jars for my seniors that say, "Owl miss you!" on the cap.

I had very hard-working seniors this year, and when I saw Elissa's tweet below, I thought, what a cute gift!
I thought about using Mason Jars and looked on Pinterest and got some good ideas:
I loved the owl idea and right away thought of Owl Miss students know I love puns and use them too much...

Anyway, the Pinterest idea sparked some ideas, but I didn't have the time to paint the Mason Jars and really wanted something a little less complicated given the time I had.

I went to Michael's and either picked up or had the following:
  • Mason jars
  • Stock paper, multi colors
  • Googly eyes (self-adhesive if possible, but not necessary)
  • Two-sided tape or glue gun
  • Orange stock paper
  • Circular stickers to print on (I happened to have these at home ) Sorry I did not get a picture of the top down, where the stickers were. Circular stickers are not necessary - any size stickers will do.
  • Gold glitter paint (I used fabric paint.)
  • Tassels (actually found them at Target)
  • Gift Tags
  • Candy.
First, fill the jars with candy. 

Then, cut strips of stock card to wrap around the lid. I taped where the ends met, leaving a bit of overlap. I actually bought owl graduation stickers and placed them over the tape, but this part isn't necessary. 

Cut out a square cap from the same color you used for the wrap around. I actually used self-adhesive foam for the caps, but I wouldn't recommend because the tassels kept sticking to it. So, I would glue the stock card cap directly onto the mason jar cap, which already has the stock card around the lid, placing the string for the pre-written gift tag on the lid, before you glue the cap so it will hang on the side. One option is to make the lid paper a bit wider than the lid so that students can pull the cap on and off to retrieve their candy. If you do this, then the square would only be glued to the circular paper that is a bit over the lid.

Place the printed stickers on the top of the "cap" and put the end of the tassel under the sticker so it would stay in place and the tassel part would hang over the edge. I used the glitter paint to paint around the sticker to reinforce it brightened it up. If you don't want to use the stickers, click to see how to make tassels and use a metal brad to attach it to the cap.

Use the glitter paint to paint each student's name, but then I leaned the jar on its side for a good 30 minutes so the paint wouldn't drip.

Cut out orange noses using orange stock paper.

Using the double-sided tape or a glue gun, glue the eyes and the nose on the jar, and you are done!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Find Student-Taught Math Lessons and Riddles on Padlet #StudentTeachingStudents

I blogged about my Ted-Ed Project here, but I used Padlet to create a visually pleasing and easy way to sort the student-made videos. Click below to get a glimpse at all of them. 

Made with Padlet

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

A Good Final Project: Students Creating Videos to Teach Other Students

I am launching my Ted-Ed project #StudentsTeachingStudents, and I think it was pure luck that I had such an amazing group of students to work with this year. Each of my Algebra 2 Honors students created a short video of a concept of their choice that they learned in my class this year. They used Stop Motion, time lapse, iMovie, Explain Everything and Premier among other things. They edited and re-edited so that their videos could be watched by other students who would use their lessons to understand the topic at hand. They dropped their videos in the Ted-Ed “Create a Lesson” format, and came up with multiple choice and free response questions and included links that viewers could click on for enrichment or practice.

Here are a couple of examples.

Here's where to get these videos:

This YouTube channel, #StudentsTeachingStudents, hosts all of their videos. There are more to come. This will not be limited to just math, but right now, it's a start. 

This spreadsheet contains all of their Ted-Ed lessons, though some are still a work in progress.

This is a snapshot of what this student's particular Ted-Ed lesson looks like. Your students can watch the video, answer questions, and then find out more about the topic in the Dig Deeper section. You can customize the lesson how you would like, and you, as the teacher, can see their answers to the questions as well.

Dig Deeper example
Multiple Choice example - will tell you if you are correct.
Feel free to use these videos or lessons to help your students who were absent or who want enrichment or if you would like to flip your classroom. 

Also, if you would like to add to the library, no matter what your discipline is, please email me at

Want to do this project with your students? Here are some resources:

  • What Makes a Good Student Taught Lesson? I created this, but I must thank Rushton Hurley, of Next Vista For Learning, who happened to be running a contest just as my students were making the videos. He helped me a lot with copyright issues (students should only use creative commons music, etc.), citations, and he has a great eye for how to make a lesson better, i.e., hold a slide for a few seconds if it has a formula on it. 
  • Form 1:  Students fill this out before they have finished their lesson. You may need to copy this and make it your own. I had students upload a picture of their outline, but I think you can only do that for your own Google group. It is KEY to getting students to commit to their outline and write it out - a script, if you will - so that they don't waste time shooting a video that you won't accept.
  • Grading Rubric - again thanks to Rushton for his guidelines, which helped me to format mine. 

Here is a little history on the project. 

A number of years ago, I went to the Anja S. Greer Conference on Mathematics and Technology at Philips Exeter Academy. This conference is phenomenal - I've been twice and would love to go back again. Alan November was a keynote speaker and spoke about students creating videos to help other students learn. It stuck with me in the back of my mind, but it seemed like a lot of work. I was right.

I am the faculty sponsor of a math club, and for a few years, I suggested that students create teaching videos instead of peer tutoring for community service. No one did.

Then last year, I saw an application for the Ted-Ed Innovative Educator (TIE), Cohort Three, and I decided to apply. I filled out everything very naturally, and then the question came...what project would you like to pursue if you became a TIE? In the back of my mind, I always envisioned students learning from other students. Even though it had been a few years and I hadn't done anything with my own students, I decided it was something I had really wanted to do, and the words flowed. 

I got the invite to be a TIE, and now I actually was nervous...this sounded so hard! But we had monthly video meetings and an amazing get-together, and over the course of about a year, the project evolved. I can't even tell you how every video call changed just one bit of what I wanted to do. And the Stop Motion workshop at Ted-Ed was mind-blowing...this never would have even been in my mind in the past. Almost one year and 12 one-hour conversations later,  here we are.  Special thanks to Sting and Lisa, from Ted-Ed, who helped me tremendously with my vision. 

It's not been easy for me nor for the kids. Students are used to turning in a project and being done, not being emailed half a dozen times to fix this or that. But I want their work to be accurate, and I want them to be proud.

I have a student who is fact-checking for me for community service. He told me that he wishes these videos were available to him when he was in my class - that they were so helpful. I've shown a couple of the videos to my classes and it's neat to see the students interested in the topic, knowing that their peers made it, and it's also great to see the sense of pride that comes across the student who made the video.

I'm really excited about this project, and I ask you to join me in having your students create videos for each other, and maybe even for the world.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

On Learning Grit from a Student

I recently discovered that Popular Mechanics, a magazine I remember hearing about from when I was a kid, has a riddle of the week, given by Jay Bennett. I used to love Click and Clack's riddle of the week from Car Talk (anyone remember Dewey Cheetham and Howe? I am dating myself again!), so I was pretty excited when I found Jay's puzzles.

I decided that we would dedicate a day to going through the problems in my Honors Problem Solving Seminar. It was pretty cool to see that we had already solved a majority of them, and even cooler that there were a plethora of ones that we haven't solved yet.

When we got to "The Airplane Problem," I saw it was deemed "hard."
I remembered when this came out as a Ted-Ed Riddle (see video at the top), I heard it was one of the hardest riddles. So I never watched it.

It's interesting, considering that on day 1 of Problem-Solving, we talk so much about grit and struggling to work through a problem, and yet, I really did not want to tackle the airplane problem.

There are definitely times when we can't solve a problem in class, and we have to look it up. I think it's good for students to see that the teacher can't solve every problem, and sometimes there is a twist that we just never would have thought of. 

Well, my students dug into the problem. We talked it through for a while and after about 15 minutes, I said, are we ready for the answer?

K, a great thinker, said, "I need more time." She was on to something. OK, I said and started shuffling my papers, cleaning my desk, graded a question or two...I was done. I couldn't do it, so I stopped.  A few times, I stopped the students, feeling bad that the problem was deemed so hard and maybe they were 'wasting' time, thinking maybe it was one of those impossible ones that you just don't totally understand even after watching the video, i.e., I'm still lost on the three gods riddle.

I said, "Should we watch the answer?" K said, "Wait, I need more time." OK, I said and really began to look at her work. Within a few minutes, she stepped back, admired her work,  said, "I think I finished", and proceeded to explain step-by-step, how to solve the problem that I gave up on. 

SPOILER ALERT! Here is her work:
As we watched the answer on the video, K nodded at each step, as it matched her solution. I thought, wow, K just taught me a thing or two about grit today. K put the "possible" in "impossible" for me. 

I am so proud of K's accomplishments in this class. It's great to learn things from your students, both knowledge, and perseverance! 

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Having a Unit Circle Tournament Using Purpose Games

If you want students to know their radians, sines, and cosines quickly, then this is the game for you and your students--especially if they are a competitive group like mine.

Students will be given a radian, point, quadrant signs, or an axis label and they have to click on the blue button quickly that matches it. And it's timed! I ask students to shoot for their best time with 100%. One of my students made top 5 of all players in the world with 37 seconds. We have no idea how she could do that!!

Click here for the link at Purpose Games. In the past, my students have logged in and played the game to try to get their names on the leaderboard. I assign it for homework the night after teaching the unit circle and give a bonus point to the top 3 students. But this year, I found the tournament section!

I discovered that there are lots of things to do on this site, but all I have tried so far is to click on CREATE at the top and create a group.

I entered in all of the info and I actually did make it public because when I initially tried invite only, I couldn't get it to work right. No one else joined other than my classes, so I think it's fine to do it that way.

You can name the group whatever you want and even can add a picture. Then click on create a tournament, in the yellow box. On the original, I did write some clever things, but for show here, I didn't. 

Enter the name, description, and when you want the tournament to start and end. Save the tournament.

Search for "unit circle" in the search box below and click enter.

Lots of choices pop up. I choose the one by felliax08. Click on "add game." Then click "publish" at the bottom. You will get a link, and you can share it with students and the tournament is on!
A few things to note: π/2 is not on there. Also, "x-cosine" means click on the button that is the x-axis, and "y-sine" means click on the button that is the y-axis. There is a glitch for quadrant signs. x,x means +,+, etc, so the plus signs come out as x's. Otherwise, it's all good, and my kids really enjoyed playing it. There was a lot of chatter about it the next day in class. AND they know their unit circle!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Ted-Ed Virus Riddle

My third Ted-Ed riddle was published yesterday. Here is the link to the actual lesson:

This was a fun one to do because it required me to research some Discrete Math topics that I learned back in grad school, like Hamiltonian Paths and circuits. The playful ending of the "Traveling salesperson" is a famous graph theory problem that students likely don't know about yet.

It's not a particularly difficult one, but certainly can stump a class for a good five minutes. Show it in class and be sure to show the second part even if kids get it right so they learn a little bit about graph theory and Sir William Rowan, not THAT Hamilton!

Here are links to my other Ted-Ed riddles:
This one is more "mathy" and great for higher levels, though MS kids do enjoy it, too. 

This one is an easier one that takes some time for kids to figure out. This could be done with all levels and I love having students "act" out the part. 

And here's an all-time favorite that I did not write, but I love to do with kids. Again, having them act it out is very fun!

Monday, April 3, 2017

Algebra 2 Honors Unit Circle Projects 2017

Each year, I give my students a Unit Circle Project to help them to remember the Unit Circle and to show off their creativity. Entries from two years ago were also great and can be found here. This year, students also rocked their projects. I think this is the hardest working class I've had in a very long time, and I am so proud of them. Students are told that they are not allowed to use project ideas already posted on the Internet, as that would be plagiarism, just as copying a paper is against our Honor Code. I showed them some projects I found online and told them theirs should all be original. I use guidelines and the rubric from, and also tell students that they must make their own circles and not use pre-made materials for them. Here are some of their projects:

I've seen these crayon melting effects on Pinterest!
"Arc" Reactor! Such a clever name (Ironman)

Look at the pepperoni, pineapple, and pepper cut-outs. The crust is very creatively done,
and there is real oregano sprinkled throughout!

A play on Dr. Suess

This student drew this by hand and dedicated it to her father. 

Beautiful hand drawn peacock!

This student "made" her own lampshade from scratch!

Though I did get a few dartboards, this one actually works with magnetic darts!
The student put a magnetic sheet under his hand drawn board.
I liked the "Stonehenge" look of this, particularly as I am traveling there this summer!
Stay tuned for my blog on the Unit Circle Tournament, which I will try to blog about later this week!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Puzzles, Puzzles, Puzzles.

It's a good Sunday. A former colleague texted me this puzzle today. 

Try it. It's a good one. You don't need to read Spanish to figure out what it's asking. I'm going to give this to my classes tomorrow. Will rich discussions take place? I am hoping so. And I don't think it will take up too much time. Try it, and THEN scroll down for a hint if you need it.
What's cool about this problem is that all of the numbers are odd, and there is no way to add three odd numbers to get an even. An odd + an odd = even, and then an even + odd = odd. So there must be (as always) a trick. Should I give you the answer? Email me at if you want the answer. 

I am hoping that in class, we can talk about why this is the case: that even numbers can be represented as 2n, and odds as 2n+1, and so on. 

Why else is it a good Sunday? A former student texted me this link today, which she said made her think of me: 11 Difficult Food Riddles That’ll Stump Pretty Much Everyone - Buzz Feed. She is a foodie and I am a puzzle freak, so this is truly the best of both worlds. I have blogged about giving a Plexer of the Day, and this would be fun to give when you have a few minutes left at the end of class. Here is the first one:


It's also a good day because I love doing the Sunday NYT crossword puzzle. Here is a picture of Tiki and me working on it...

BUT YOU MUST LOOK BELOW FOR  SOME COOL PROBLEMS from the NYT!! This came out last month: Are You Ready For Math Whiz Camp?

The question below is my favorite question, but all 5 were great class openers. 

(Click here for a great article on BEAM, an experimental program in Manhattan for students with a high aptitude for math and who come from low-income populations).

I really liked these Relay Race Puzzles from Chris Smith. I haven't tried them yet, but I hope to. You may need to join TES to view them, but so far, it has been free for me. TES has many resources to look through! Below is an example of two cards from one of the several relay races...many are holiday themed and directions are given as well. 


I love this link from that gives 12 challenging brainteasers. Here is one of my favorites.


There are so many links with fun puzzles...I have them saved in a folder on Google Chrome so I can easily access them as well as save them when I find new ones. This is unrelated, but some of my students will soon be working on a project where they will teach a video lesson,  and a subset of that group will be using stop-motion animation. Here is a very cool professional video called "Fresh Guacamole" that I enjoyed watching that I will share with them.  So clever!