Redecorate Your Room!

Bed-Bath-Beyond-logoAs a culminating assessment for a PreAlgebra unit in decimals, percents and graphing, I decided to teach students about the useful tool of a Google Spreadsheet. After introducing some basic terminology and functionality of a spreadsheet, students will be given $400 to spend at Bed, Bath and Beyond to redecorate their room. It is my hope that they will find this activity engaging and, at the same time, teach them how easy calculations can be when using a spreadsheet. I will also introduce the basics of creating a bar chart. I thought I’d share in case anyone else was looking for this type of activity.


Adding accountability

Although last year’s Algebra 1B review library was successful for students as they created their own screencasts using AutumsScreencastEducreations, I felt that there was something missing. Sure, a few high achieving students appreciated having the videos to brush up on skills before the exam; the rest didn’t really engage. I noticed the same thing with my own flipped lessons early on. Unless I added some “activity” to hold students accountable for watching, the students seemed to watch the videos less and less as the weeks went on. That is, until I added a little 5 question assessment!

I decided to add the same “accountability” to the student screencasts. The students needed to include and “assign” 5 problems for their classmates to complete. Additionally, needed to submit the answer key for these problems in their script.

Here’s the screencast project rubric.

The students LOVED watching their classmates screencasts and were incredibly focused watching and completing the assigned problems. I corrected them and counted it as an optional quiz. It was a win-win for everyone! 

Here are some student projects:

Autumn’s Screencast

Ava’s Screencast

Luke’s Screencast

Hamden Hall’s #HourofCode

There is nothing like the expression on a students face when they solve a problem or achieve a goal they have been striving for. This is one of the many reasons I was very excited and proud that Hamden Hall participated in Computer Science Education Week’s Hour of Code!

I presented this video

 at a Technology Committee meeting earlier in the fall and we unanimously decided that participating in the Hour of Code would be an exciting experience to offer our students.  After digging a little deeper and exploring the wide range of coding apps and programming options out there, we were eager to begin to organize the event across all three divisions. (I need to be honest– we were also a bit overwhelmed). Thankfully, our librarians took the bull by the horns. We scheduled a follow- up meeting, and decided that weekly library class would be the best place for our Lower School students to have a coding experience.  Martha Djang, our Lower School Librarian, researched many options and decided to focus on two apps–  Kodable and Cargo-Bot . Kathy McNeiece, our Head Librarian, worked on the plan for our Middle and Upper Schools.   The librarians worked with the tech department to organize optional times (during lunch and study hall)  in the library for students to code with Light Bot and Scratch. We got the kids excited to sign up by showing a video at assembly and by pushing out messages through OnCampus and via email. Some classroom teachers even jumped in to give it a try.  There was definitely a buzz around campus and it caught on even more as the week unfolded!

I took the opportunity to utilize two days of my pre-algebra class to explore Hopscotch. We used our school set of iPads and followed along with this video:

Having had experience flipping the classroom, I know that students usually stop watching after about 7 or 8 minutes. I have to admit, I was a little concerned that this was 25 minutes. I went for it anyway… and sure enough, the kids were completely engaged and didn’t want to leave when class was over. Many students who had their own iPads downloaded the hopscotch app and completed the project that we were slated to work on the following day without being asked! I thankfully had some of these additional projects to challenge those students. We had a blast!

According to Computing in the Core

Computer science develops students’ computational and critical thinking skills and shows them how to create, not simply use, new technologies. This fundamental knowledge is needed to prepare students for the 21st century, regardless of their ultimate field of study or occupation.

Anyone with personal experience in coding at any level can completely agree with this. And can also agree with the indescribable feeling you get when your program finally works. 

So, even though the official week is over, there’s plenty of projects and ready-made lessons waiting for you. I encourage you– give coding a try — whatever discipline or grade you teach! Why would you not want to provide an authentic learning experience where students are excited, creative and collaborative?    

Note: If you don’t have technology readily available in your classroom, you could even try some “unplugged” options listed on this page.

Here’s a photo gallery from our Hour of Code week!

If these mathematicians were on Facebook…

For the third year in a row, my Algebra 1 class researched mathematicians and created a Fake Facebook wall for him/ her. einstein(See projects from 2011 and 2012 here and here.)  Each year, I reassess the project and make some changes and improvements. This year, given the number of snow days we had, I decided that introducing Diigo would be too much. I still wanted students to have a place to organize their research, and I wanted to be able to monitor it and give feedback. So, I created a googledoc Planning Sheet for their research, instead.

Here is the rubric for this year’s version of the project. 

Here is a link to the planning sheet, which included the justification of all of their photos, wall posts, friends, etc. Turns out, this was even better than Diigo. I was able to see their progress very easily using the history of the document, and I was able to have an online dialog with them about their research using “comments”. I know Diigo could have done some of this, but the kids hit the ground running with a tool they were already familiar with.

Since the online fake Facebook sites were so unstable last year, I used this JFK template I found online and taught students how to edit this to reflect their own mathematician. Even though the updated Facebook interface is different, students still were able to make this template work.

We spent a few days working through the research. Students still needed to be reminded that they would not be able to find a list of friends of their mathematicians. (See I Can’t Find Blaise Pascal’s Friends) After some one-on-one discussions as I circulated the class, students were able to figure out friends, photos, wall posts and comments for their page. They seemed to have a blast with it.

Here is a link to the peer assessment. This worked really well for us and students were able to make some connections between the mathematicians that were contemporaries of each other. That was cool!

Here are some of our final projects:
Carl Gauss
Rene Descartes
Isaac Newton

My Pi Day Plan

NCTM Illuminations

Tomorrow is Pi Day! (March 14th) It’s been many years since this date did not fall during our March vacation. I am super excited that I

can celebrate it with my students. It gives me a great excuse to have some “math fun” and step outside of the curriculum!

Here’s my plan for tomorrow:

1) We will start with a video on the musical representation of Pi.    What Pi Sounds Like

2) Then we will have a pi recitation contest. The student who recites the most decimal places of pi will get 5 bonus points on the test they took today.

3) We will divide into teams and play a few rounds of Pi Day Jeopardy

4) Then I will give the students 15 minutes to complete a Pi Day Scavenger Hunt.

5) We will meet in the caf  to have pie for dessert!

That’s the plan. Let’s see how it goes.

Here are some links to resources that helped me pull this all together:

Pi Day Activities on Pinterest
PiDay 2012 Wikispaces
Education World Pi Day Party
Scavenger Hunt adapted from Mrs. Burke’s Pi Day Activities

Our Review “Library”

Given the pros and cons discussed in last week’s #isedchat: Midterms/ Finals: Do they have a constructive purpose?, the verdict is still out on whether midterms are a worthwhile undertaking for students.

educreationsNo matter how I, personally, feel about them, they are a reality for our Upper School students. And I have to be honest, I struggle with review week… How can I make the best use of time, and meet each students’ need? It’s impossible to go over every topic and each of my students always has different questions on different content.

This year, with Hamden Hall’s new set of iPads, I decided that I was going to have the students create their own review “library”, using the app Educreations. I shared the idea with a colleague who teaches the other section of the same course and he was willing to give it a try. YAY!

Here’s the project pitch I gave to the students in both classes:

You are responsible for helping your fellow Algebra 1 students review for the exam. Each of you will choose a section that we covered and create a 4-6 minute screencast on that section. Your screencast should include any important terminology and at least 4 examples. You will submit your screencast “script” to your teacher for approval. Once it has been approved, you can begin recording. When you are done, please email the video to your teacher so we can add it to the shared GoogleDoc spreadsheet for your use as you review for the exam.

Here’s the link to the rubric and timeline I shared with students.

ipad2I think it is pretty awesome that both classes are creating the screencasts because now we will have 31 – 4 – 6 minute review videos readily available to all students in both classes!

At this point in time, all scripts have been reviewed, corrected and approved and tomorrow is recording day! I am really looking forward to seeing the final product. I even had one student submit his tonight (AHEAD of schedule). I am also looking forward to students having access to this library of short screencasts made by their peers. They can watch the ones they need to, on demand, as they are completing their review assignments this week and preparing next weekend for the exam.

The “Problem Solving” Problem

Two trains leave the station headed in opposite directions. One train travels 10 miles per hour faster than the other. In 6 hours they are 425 miles apart. Find the rate of each train.

We’ve all heard it before… it’s the nightmare every adult has about their algebra class in High School…why do word problems have such a bad reputation!?   They are actually the avenue by which algebra (and most of math) becomes relevant. They can only become relevant if they ARE relevant. Is the “train problem” relevant to us? What connection can a student possibly make to this?

In my 20 years of teaching High School Math, word problems have always been challenging for my students. Consecutive integer problems, age problems,  distance/ rate problems, simple interest, etc…Word problems fitting into neat little categories.  Is this really the way students learn how to think critically? Are these the problems we WANT them to solve?  I think they actually learn to fear and dread word problems when they are uninterested and find no connection with it.  This year, I am using a new text (Pearson’s Algebra 1) and it, thankfully, takes a different approach to problem solving. It does not break down each word problem by “type”, as the “traditional algebra textbook” does.  While no textbook is perfect,  I am finding that my new text is a breath of fresh air. Each algebraic concept is introduced with a real “problem” to solve, and each section’s skill is used to solve that (and many other)  problems. These problems  don’t fit into a category, and don’t have a chart to fill in or a formulaic method to solve.  This is still hard work for my students. (And, really, how many 14 year olds love to work that hard?). But,  the problems are interesting (comparing vacation excursions, calculating tickets to concerts, figuring out how many songs and videos an iPhone can hold). And the problem solving process has not been equated with meaningless, rote work.

Over the course of the past week, however, I have felt that my class needed a little boost to keep the problem solving momentum going.  I searched the web, tweeted to my #mathchat friends and visited some of the math educator blogs I love… nothing was really jumping out at me. After thinking about about it some more, I decided that I should focus on something that all 9th graders care very deeply about… their cell phone.

So, I developed the  “Cell Phone” project:

You and your partner are charged with figuring out the best cell phone plan out there! You have 5 minutes  to make the sales pitch to the class. You must determine 3 “must have” features your plan should include. You will research the available options and choose 2 to compare.You will present the monthly cost for each plan and the reasons you and your partner chose that particular cell phone plan.

Here is a link to the sample “worksheet”.


Task #1) Interview your parents to find out about the cell phone provider/plan your family uses. What were the factors that your parents used to make their decision? Include as much detail as possible.

Task #2) Determine the 3 “must have” features your plan should include. Why have you chosen these features?

Task #3) Determine which cell phone plans you will compare. What are the factors that you considered in choosing these plans?

Task #4) Research the cost of the two plans for a month. Use at least three different web sources.

Task #5)  Create a 4 slide googledoc presentation to convince the class that you have chosen the best cell phone plan to recommend.

Here is the rubric.

I introduced the project using this website  as a starting point  for discussion. We talked about different features and came up with a list of relevant factors that groups might consider– coverage, voice minutes, texting, data, international calls (a few students have family out of the country).  We also discussed ways to research the information. I can’t wait to see how the project evolves! My students seemed excited to get started.

So– here it is:

My professional goal for the year-    change the perception of the “dreaded” word problem in my class!

I love it when a plan comes together!

Ok- I admit it. I had “bloggers block”. I started a few posts since school ended, but they lacked spark and never really came together.  They mostly focused on some frustrations that I had at the end of the school year. It felt good to write about them, but I just didn’t see the point in trying to flush them out to publish them. So, after a few weeks of rest and relaxation, and a few hours with some students, I am inspired to write again.

Yesterday was the start of our 2nd Annual Engineering and Science Academy at Hamden Hall. Over 150 students applied for the 32 spots we had in the camp… WOW! Last year was an amazing teaching experience for me (see post here) and I was looking forward to getting started.

This year, my plan was to work with one of the science teachers on the first day, guiding students in some  research on bridges, and then to complete some kind of computer activity (possibly using Google Sketchup) where students could work on a preliminary design of a truss bridge they would eventually create out of linguine and test for its strength. The remainder of the week, I would work with Sarah Ludwig, helping the students to design computer games using Scratch.

In preparation, I began looking around for websites on bridge design that were appropriate for students in grades 6 – 8. I found some good ones, but struggled with how I would share the links. Typing individual URLs is so burdensome. I couldn’t share them via email and I thought of creating a wiki and posting the links there, but I didn’t have one set up already.

Then, as  luck would have it, this past week’s #isedchat topic was “What are effective ways to curate resources for students and faculty?” was mentioned as an easy, interesting, very user-friendly way to share. So, I decided to give it a try. Literally, within 5 minutes of signing up, I had this page ready to share.

SO EASY! YAY!  and the URL was very easy for students to type. Part one of the plan was done! 

After watching a YouTube video on creating a bridge using Google Sketchup, I realized it would be WAY too hard to do in the 25 minutes I had. So, I went to google and typed in “bridge simulator” and up popped “West Point Bridge Builder“. I had heard of this program a while ago, but I didn’t make the connection until now. Within minutes, I downloaded it, and was designing my own truss bridge.

This is exactly the type of bridge that students would be creating for the rest of the week!  It even allowed users to  test their design, and learn how to strengthen the weak areas using different materials and supports. How perfect was this?!

Students arrived in class and things went EXACTLY as planned. We watched the Tacoma Bridge Collapse, talked about different types of bridges, and the students dove into their research. After 20 minutes, they were ready to start designing. This was amazing to watch! With about 3 minutes of instruction, the students were designing and simulating and correcting and re-trying their designs, learning all along the way. It was a blast!

To quote John “Hannibal” Smith from the 80’s TV classic, The A-Team, “I love it when a plan comes together!”  What a great day!

….and I can’t wait to see the linguine truss bridges to their completion!

Voicethread as an Assessment Tool

As our final assessment of the year in Geometry, I was originally planning to do a screencast, similar to my Algebra 1 class. Since the topic was segments and angles in a circle, I quickly realized that it would be very difficult and labor intensive for my students to accurately draw the diagrams necessary. I was looking for a way to have the diagrams already saved and to have the students spend their time explaining how to solve them.  After talking through the issue with Sarah Ludwig, Academic Technology Coordinator, she suggested trying VoiceThread. I had used VoiceThread before, but never as an assessment tool. I decided to give it a try!

We scanned the final assessment for the chapter, and broke each problem into an individual powerpoint slide. I uploaded this to VoiceThread and shared it with my students. Each student needed to complete 12 problems correctly (out of 20) on paper, submit them to me for grading. Once they completed all of them correctly, they could begin recording their solutions in VoiceThread.

Even though we had a small issue with “disappearing ink” in the drawing tool on VoiceThread, the students found it extremely easy to record. I loved seeing these students record and then re-record the problems until they got the solutions just right. Is there any better way to practice solving problems?

I used this rubric for grading and found that the biggest issue was the fact that, while students did record the solutions correctly, they did not always fully explain WHY they were solving them… the geometric concepts. When I do this project next year, I will be sure to stress the explanation as a key component to the project. Live and learn!

Overall, using VoiceThread as an assessment tool was extremely successful. The students were fully engaged and I was able to get a very clear picture of what they understood. In many ways, it was the most authentic assessment of the year!

Here is our final project:
Vodpod videos no longer available.

“Algebra 1B Academy”: Mission Accomplished

Last Friday, we completed our screencast project in Algebra 1. Things went extremely well! Screencast-o-matic was very reliable and the students enjoyed choosing their own color/style/ background to write out their problems using Paint. It was like music to my ears hearing them explain how to add/ subtract/ multiply and divide radicals expressions. The students were completely engaged for all three days in the lab and the entire process forced them to think about how to simplify radical expressions. YAY!

Each student  downloaded the screencasts as .avi files and the students were able to easily import the video files into Windows MovieMaker, and add a title, transitions and credits.  I uploaded the final projects to my YouTube channel and really enjoyed grading them. Although I had students submit problems ahead of time for checking, some of the students made some errors in explaining the problems and I noted them on their grading rubric. It was the ultimate assessment of whether students knew WHAT to do and WHY they were doing it.  Overall, the project turned out great and I will definitely do this again next year!

Here are a few of the screencasts: