MTBoS #6 (very late) and a reflection

I know I’m about 2 months “late” on this “mission,” (or rather, writing about the mission), but wanted to post nonetheless. Also, when is it really “too late” to do some “borrowing and regrouping”, as the mission title calls for? 

In order to keep track of some of the overwhelming wealth of resources, I took the advice of MTBoS and signed up for an blog e-reader through Digg reader. I’ve attached a few blogs there that I have found that have inspired me, and want to make sure I can continue to follow. 

Keeping up with these blogs has already proven to be enormously helpful! One blog post I remember reading by following the MTBoS missions was a post about a game for parallel lines and transversals: Dance Dance Transversal! We started parallel lines and transversals in my class this week. This topic I find can be very bland–and a lot of the mistakes my students make center around mixing up (or not understanding from the beginning) the vocabulary involved when talking about the different angle relationships (corresponding angles, alternate exterior angles, blah blah blah). 

So, I liked this idea of game as a way to make the vocabulary more fun–even if only temporarily. Also, it would give them a chance to do something completely different, and hopefully some “whole-brain” learning might take place, with physical movements to go with the angle positions and names. 


The game was a huge success! The powerpoint was a little tough to make–a lot of animation–but it was worth it (and if anyone finds this blog and wants a copy, here it is: Parallel Lines Dance Dance Transversal). Also hilarious to watch. Especially the “Speed Round,” where the words fly across the screen way too fast to really see. 

MTBoS Mission #4: Listen and Learn

I missed this mission way back when it was first posted, but thought it was worth revisiting to see what I was missing out on. I was initially going to re-watch the “International Global Math Department Autumn special” but was sidetracked when I saw this title: “Exam Review That Doesn’t Suck,” and couldn’t resist. My students will start exams next week, and review is always the most stressful part for me as a teacher: my students don’t seem to care, don’t know anything, and don’t care that they don’t know anything. Last year (my first year teaching), I worked myself into a frenzy trying to cram even the most basic facts and procedures they should’ve known months ago down their ungrateful, unruly and uncaring throats. I quickly gave up on games (jeopardy quickly went from fun to horrible), and tried all sorts of partner and review activities, sometimes with mild success, but most of the time only to find out how poorly I must have taught that lesson for everyone to still not know how to set up a proportion using similar triangles (for example). By the end of the class, I was usually yelling and threatening every possible consequence in my arsenal to no avail, and even my good kids had checked out. By the time my students took their exams (and did, predictably, terribly) I felt so little remorse at marking “F’s” on those papers and writing snide, sarcastic comments like “Antonio, if only you had done the review sheet we worked on in class” or “Lataris, maybe next time you won’t sleep during the review.” In short, my review last year did not end well for anyone involved; not for me, and especially not my students. 

Anyway, onto the Global Math Department blog/video: Exam Review That Doesn’t Suck

First part of the video was mostly different types of review games, and variations of the team-question-point answer games. The variations, with different emphases on groups, depth, teacher prep, timing, etc., can be tailored to different needs. I like how the presenter emphasized building in “hype” to the games–through shouting, through using “icons” to make it a race, etc.–to make even simple review more exciting. 

These games seem better than basic team jeopardy, but I’m still left wondering how to get quality review in for students (and especially whole groups of students) who never truly learned the concepts to begin with. I guess this isn’t as much about reviewing as it is reteaching…but I think that’s probably a different problem than what these teachers are presenting on with their ranges of review “games.” 

Since my school is so chaotic, I like to keep my classroom on the calmer side, so maybe I’ll save some of these more chaotic games until the actual end of the year. But I think some of these more “review” type “games” can be modified to end of the class reviews as more fun checks for understanding. Again, Matt’s key point about “hype” making students enjoy the game and “feel good about math” resonated deeply with me–perhaps because this “joy factor” is often so difficult to implement and see in my own classroom, and yet feeling good (or simply better) about math is perhaps the most important thing I can teach my students this year to set them up for more success next year. 

The second presenter (Megan) talked about one activity that I like to do as well: stations. One suggestion I really liked of hers was to have a self-checking mechanism in place so students can check their answers. I find giving answer keys to be troublesome because my students will just write down the answer. But I liked her suggestion of putting the answers to the previous station at the next station. 

Anyway, a successful introduction to the Global Math Department. And now I’m going to go check out two others that intrigued me: The Autumn “Special” that I mentioned earlier, and “My Favorites: Problem-Based Lessons and Tasks.”

Mission 5: #TwitterChat

I participated in my first Twitter Math Chat on Wednesday night on Geometry. Unlike the other missions, this one left me unimpressed. I’ll keep this post short and simple: 

The pros: 

1. This #geomchat topic was all about Tasks. With Common Core being implemented next year, the topic on everyone’s mind seems to always be around these new “Tasks.” This conversation, though, was a little more broad. 

“Q1: Define Task based on what it looks like in your classroom.” 

I liked this question because it broadened the idea of “Task” to what it should be: not about preparing for the Performance Based Tasks, but rather meaningful and engaging work done during class time. 

Some of the responses I liked: 


My own response was similar, but these are all nuanced with slightly different emphases: “partners and groups,” “discovery” and “non-straightforward.” This is what I’ve been searching for as rigorous, meaningful and engaging classwork, and its important to be reminded of this so that these ideas stay at the forefront in my classroom. 

2. Sharing resources. The opening question was a natural segue into where people find tasks. I’ve bookmarked a few websites I hope to try to out. As the saying goes for successful teachers, “Beg, Borrow and Steal.”

3. This “cosign/cosine” pun that I made. Nobody commented on it during the #geomchat, and its probably only funny to me, but I’ll repost it here anyway. 


The Cons: 

1. The #geomchat had pretty low attendance. Since this is my first (and, to date, only) experience with these twitter chats, I have no idea what the standard is. I was expecting that within the twitter universe, there would be a constant stream of #geomchat posts. But it seemed like only a handful of people were participating. 

2. It was pretty short. I thought there would be more of a rigorous Q and A, but there were only 3 questions! (and one was merely an introduction!)

3. Nobody commented on my pun (see #3 above).

I’ll stay optimistic and assume that these will get better, but overall I expected a little more substance from the #geomchat. I’ll try and tune in next week to see if things improve. 


Mission 3: Estimation Exploration

Apologies for the delays in the blogging, as well as for the corniness of the blog title. But it quite adequately (and alliteratively) conveys this week’s mission (Or rather, last week’s mission…I’m a week behind on the Exploring MTBoS missions!).

Anyway, this mission was to pick a math website and explore it, both independently and with students. I chose Estimation180.

I think this is a brilliant tool to generate number sense, which is exactly what the creator describes it as: “Building Number sense one day at a time.”

I started this year off asking a lot of estimation questions and “gut check” questions. I would use this mainly when talking about angles: “Does that really look like a 150 degree angle?” after my student measured a 30 degree angle with the wrong scale of the protractor. I’ve continued this line of questioning sporadically, but inconsistently.

The purpose of these questions I feel is quite similar to the purpose of this website: think with reality, not through procedures. This website has reminded me of the importance, as well as the accessibility to students, of simply taking a step back and predicting an answer, rather than jumping into the equations, procedures and/or tedious and abstract tasks my students view math being.

What I like about the website is that its simple, straightforward, and accessible to all levels. It came at the perfect time too: the Friday after Halloween, at the end of a long week, at the end of October (universally agreed as the longest month for teachers), at the end of the day during 8th block. Most of my class opted to buy a ticket to attend the basketball fundraiser, primarily to avoid my class I’m sure (and I encourage it, if only I could have encouraged the remaining 4 students to have done the same!).  So, with 4 students remaining, of varying academic and behavioral capacities, I had about 45 minutes to deal with them. (And I refuse to give them “free time,” as I constantly instill in my students that I ALWAYS mean business during the school day).

This was the perfect opportunity to try it out. I brought out the leftover halloween candy I had  intended on giving out in class that day, moved everyone to the front of the Promethean Board, and pulled up Estimation180.

They loved it. The first one they didn’t understand what to do, but quickly caught on. I gave out candy to the closest estimate. They started competing, and arguing with each other. But unlike most days where the comments are ad hominem attacks of varying graphic and offensive language, these were fact based arguments!Screen Shot 2013-11-03 at 10.30.27 PM Screen Shot 2013-11-03 at 10.29.57 PM Screen Shot 2013-11-03 at 10.29.42 PM

“That can’t be right because obviously there’s 12 boxes of paper there, stupid!”

(Well, not entirely insult free, but at least there’s a mathematical and logical defense in there.)

As we progressed, the guesses got better, the comments got nicer (and maybe it was because I didn’t give candy to the first insulter even when she got the estimate exactly right), and the explanations got clearer.

They were disappointed when I told them we had to stop, and asked if we would do more of this in class.

I’m not sure if I’ll use the whole website class wide, but I certainly am reinvigorated into bringing the number sense–and the visual “gut checks”–back into the forefront of my curriculum. After all, what’s the purpose of learning geometry if you can’t actually “see” it and make sense of it in the real world?

MTBoS #2: Tweet Yo Self

I wish I could take credit for this clever name, but it is the name of the second mission of Exploring the Math-Twitter Blogosophere challenge (albeit the second-choice name). As expected in the title, this mission required me to dig up my old twitter handle and password (which I can see I created on a whim in June of 2009, then promptly discarded until now (October 2013) with some intermittent posts in between. 


As for the mission, it was interesting–and dare I say, fun?–to see all the other teachers and people participating with the hashtag #MTBoS. I was able to link to a few blogs and even random anecdotes from different classrooms. It was a very easy and casual connection, not too deep and yet their questions, stories and experiences–even the ones that could only fit in 140 characters–resonated in their similarity and relevancy to my daily experiences in the classroom. Some showed classrooms to aspire too, others simply mirrored what I see in my own. Regardless, I did feel a sense of connection and community, even though they are with people I have never met–and will never meet–in person. The fact is, being a teacher is a kind of funny, daily experiment. I can get lost in the fury to cover more material, manage behavior, push critical thinking and remediate basic number skills. But students really are funny and crazy and say and do the most random things that catch me off guard and really do make you want to share them with anyone and everyone you see. (This is probably why teachers ONLY talk about school and work and students in their free time, a double-edged sword). And so, tweeting about it I guess is an outlet for these anecdotes, a structurally-imposed editor (the shorter the better–nobody wants to hear you talk about your students for THAT long!), a source for inspiration and commiseration by reading others, and of course, a reminder that despite the grind, there are always gems of humor and joy when interacting with so many different personality types and hormones in one class. 


I remember my first week in the classroom, having just met my coworkers in the new school, new city, new state that I had just moved to, and trying to figure out how to teach, how to connect to students and stuff, and, basically, what was going on. I looked forward to the moments in between classes because it enabled me to speak with other adults, ask questions and hear even brief anecdotes. This was partly because I didn’t know how I was supposed to interact with students–be their friend? be strict? tell them about myself? be honest? and being asked “How do I feel being the only white person in the room” by one student on the first day didn’t help either. As I became more comfortable with teaching and interacting with students, I stopped waiting for the chance to engage with other teachers and started talking with my students more about non-math content in the breaks between classes, improving my relationships with students and improving my days at school. But there are still days where I’m so caught up with the daily hustle of teaching I don’t ever really interact with adult coworkers throughout the day, and sometimes that can be tough (and not something I realized at all–how many other professions do you spend all day talking and yet never talk to someone your own age?).


Anyway, this was a bit of a tangent, but I was reminded of the different circles or layers of interactions I have daily as a teacher. And I think its important to have a balance of interacting with students, and interacting with non-students, even if all we ever talk about are the students. 


The other thing I liked about this mission is perhaps the more “useful” or “intended goal”: content and idea sharing. I started teaching proofs, which was the most stressful and frustrating content for both me and my students last year. So much so that by second semester the other geometry teacher and I simply abandoned them, looking for other ways to engage critical thinking and deepening logic skills, as our students struggled and hated them so much (and were failing miserably at them, really a reflection of us failing to teach them properly). This year, I didn’t think I would teach them for the same reasons, but my students seem to be grasping content better and I’ve (perhaps foolishly and prematurely) decided to give it another shot. This year, though, I’m trying to do it more sneakily, encouraging long paragraphs filled with reasons, before I show them the standard two column model and present it more as a “shortcut” (Because who doesn’t love shortcuts?).


Day 1 of teaching even this kind of flopped, so the next morning I sent a tweet out as a kind of bat signal for help. And I was impressed by the immediate responses! Certainly they are just starting points, but I like the idea that I can spark a conversation. I’ve copied that tweet here: 



Anyway, I hope to continue tweeting now and then, if only for these sparks of ideas and reminders of anecdotes. Or, maybe I’ll go another 4 years without tweeting another word. 





Lastly, to all my twitter followers who got immediately spammed (not including the 12 posts I made for this mission–perhaps you consider that spam and I won’t be offended–but the actual spam/virus that was sent out to all of you): I apologize. And I confidently blame MTBoS! (As this is clearly the easiest and most irrational thing to do). 

Exploring MTBoS #1: Giving in, and Diving in

I have made this blog to participate in an interesting online math education experiment “Exploring the Math-Twitter-Blogosphere.” So, this blog–and this post–is me giving in to the “blog culture” and diving in to see what its all about. I’ll try to leave any corniness and preconceived judgements about blogs aside, so here we go.

1. You are going to write a blogpost on the following prompt: What is one of your favorite open-ended/rich problems?  How do you use it in your classroom?

I started all my Geometry classes off this year with the problem “Four 4s to 100.” The goal is to use only the number 4 four times (no more, no less) and any operation to calculate the numbers 1 through 100. For example, 4 – 4 + 4/4 = 1.

I remember doing a version of this in my 8th Grade Algebra I class with my teacher Ms. Torres. We did six 9s I believe. I remember being really interested and invested in solving it then, and I hoped the same imaginative spark would happen with my students. What I loved about this problem as a student was the puzzle-esque nature of it, and how it allowed for elegant and creative solutions. I distinctly remember learning about factorials then–even though its an advanced and somewhat irrelevant concept for this grade level course–and how that seemed to bust open doors for new solutions.

I realize now as a teacher this problem is so great because I was able to review and emphasize simple topics like order of operations in a novel and engaging way (I struggled last year during my first year of teaching with the concept of ‘review’ and I remember having a very funny yet eye opening conversation with one of my advisors Carmen about how Review can be structured to be boring and an excuse to zone out vs. how review can be concealed to be a kick-starter for desired reteaching). Also, I felt very vindicated that this was a great way to start the class because Jo Boaler, a Stanford math professor, also mentioned she starts her class off the same way with the same activity (though only to get to the numbers 1 through 20) because of some of the same reasons. (She led a free and open online course called “How to Teach Maths” that just finished up recently, but will be offered again through OpenEdx and Stanford I believe).

Anyway, mild success in class. There was a lot of engagement, a lot of “ohhhhs” and “ahhhhs” when they realized some new “tricks” (or rules of order of operations they could maniuplate, like parenthesis). And There were some brilliantly elegant solutions, and I’ll shout out one of my students (Austin) who agonized what seemed like all class over one answer, then came back later in the day with it: 44/.44 = 100. However, it seemed like many of them checked out once the “easier” ones were done, and I didn’t want to use up more than the 2-3 days of class, so they are still incomplete. Though the half-completed posters are still hanging up in my room and every now and then a student will ask “are we still doing those?”. My hope is that perhaps we will return to them whenever we have a lull.