Aug 102014


This is my first “Made 4 Math Monday” post of the year, and it is probably one that I would be most proud of and is my biggest achievement. It is my Classroom, ready to rock and roll for learner tomorrow, Monday, 11 August 2014!

Here is what greets them as they walk in the door to my classroom. I will be standing outside high fiving them and handing them playing card with the number 1 – 8 on it. They will sit at the table (you can barely see the playing cards on each desk arrangement) with their number and then they will fill out a form that asks for their name and 3 things interesting about themselves.

2014-08-10 15.44.11 You can see the awesome curtains I made several years ago to hide the ugly contact paper a teacher before me put on the windows, my teacher area in the back of the room, and the desks all ready and waiting for eager learners.

Once they are situated, from left to right across the front of the room they will see this:

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I did a closeup of the “Wall of Awesome” because there are some pretty funny things on there. Well, they are funny to me. I know the story, and if any learner asks, I tell them the story behind the quote too. Yes, I kind of dig Star Wars, and if you notice, I have a large “YET” on my wall on the left of the board. My 3 rules of math are above my board, all tricked out and crafted out. Thank you Meg and Shelli for the inspiration to be all “crafty”. Thank you again Meg for taking my Rules and making posters out of them.

As we continue to the right of the entrance, the learners see:

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I have my quote of the day and the date all ready to go. I have the YEARS agenda already written out. I have not put my calculators in the handy dandy $5.00 shoe caddy from Ross yet. And some teachers have not picked up their calculators as of yet.

And then I was looking at the board and I realized I did not want to do the “you are here” I did last year, so I channeled my inner craft geek again and made these:

2014-08-10 15.45.17 One for Stats, one for Algebra. They are shiny because the glue is not dry yet, but once they are dry they will be stuck to the board with the two blue magnets sitting there.

And finally, because of this post from Jared Derksen I made a Pronoun Swear Jar. I will ask for $.25 each time a pronoun is used in class discussion. I figure the money can go towards AP Exams or an AP party at the end of the year, but either way it will go back to the learners. Nothing major, but here are pics:

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There is my classroom. I will post about the first day activities tomorrow. I will NOT be going over the syllabus, but I DO have activities all planned out. Learning activities. My learners will be working from day one. No downtime.

I hope your first day of class goes well too!

Jun 202013

As I get into the summer, I have a couple of out of town conferences I am attending. One is next week at the Silver State AP Institute and another is TwitterMathCamp 2013. One thing I have run into at out of town conferences is I have been asked for a business card with my contact information.

With that in mind, I came up with the following card for myself.

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  I was trying to come up with something that is both nerdy and techy, and simultaneously semi-formal. I wanted it to fit with the formal confines of the AP Institute and be equally at home at TwitterMathCamp. I think it has a good balance.

  The QR code contains my website, twitter name, personal emails, blog address, and the B> fits into a theme I am planning for next year.

  Be greater.

  Be greater than average.

  Be greater than expectations.

  Be greater than yesterday.

  Be greater than you imagined.

  Be greater than your fears.

  Be greater than your struggles.

  Be greater than difficulties.

  Be greater than …


Any more suggestions?

Feb 042013

Homework, to give, nor not? How much to give? How much is too much? What purpose does it serve? What is the purpose in assigning it?

I will be honest, I don’t have answers to these questions, but I do have some research, some documents downloaded that may help you shape your own answers to these questions.

by John Dunlosky, et al.

Let’s start off with some super new research (Jan 2013) that identifies 5 very useful study skills that make up homework and 5 that do not help. While this is related to homework it is not about homework. I feel we as teachers need to think about why we are assigning homework, and to make it completely useful we should follow some best practices. I read about this article online, and then followed the links to find the free download from the Association for Psychological Science. Thank you for providing the research for free! This article could shape the homework assignments given to make them more useful to the learner; and one hint, practice testing was found to be very useful!

by Joseph Murphy, et. al.

Okay, this article is a bit dated, but when I was researching homework for a paper, I didn’t find much that wasn’t shrill and emotional. It is relevant, because I think some teachers haven’t changed much of their homework planning from 1987 when this study was done. Again, I really think about why I am assigning this or that as homework, there are different uses for homework, and what use am I using.

by Etta Kralovec, John Buell and David Skinner

This short little 9 page section out of an older edition of a book entitled Taking Sides: Clashing views on educational issues by James Wm. Noll gives a pro and a con to the question. It is short, and gives both sides of the debate. In math, I think we have to give some homework. I am firmly on the Yes side of the question, but it does come down to the purpose of it.

by Nevada’s Northwestern Regional Professional Development Program for Educators

Okay, I have said “purpose” several times in this post, because that is something that resonated with me closely when I went through the training our RPDP did for our math department a couple of years ago. It was based around Cathy Vatterott’s book “Rethinking Homework” that I found to be very useful in shaping my own ideas. The Whole Homework guide above is a 138 page document created by our school district to give blackline masters, thinking guides, and tools to our teachers to help us think about homework in a more constructive manner. All in all, I recommend both the Guide and the Rethinking Homework book.

As always, I hope something here is useful to someone.

Jan 282013

Last week I posted research and articles on vocabulary in math, this week I have a topic of reading and writing in math class, including some mathematical poetry. Sounds interesting, right?

by James Henle

This paper offers six different versions of mathematical poems, both traditional and modern. I really liked the fact that it offers Pascal’s Triangle as a modern mathematical poem. A very different way to look at it.

by Patrick Bahls

While the author uses examples from Calculus in this paper, the justifications, descriptions, and everything else about the concepts are applicable to any math classroom. Very well thought out and very thorough treatment of why we should use some poetry in our writing assignments in math class.

by Vicki Urquhart and McREL (an organization)

This 24 page document goes through the research on using writing in math class and then gives strategies and methods to incorporate more writing in the math curriculum. There are some good ideas here, although most of the content is geared towards elementary school concepts.

Finally, some websites that have content related to this topic.

Pat’s blog, (which I love because of the ongoing “this day in math” series) had a posting on Math, Shakespeare and some good ol’ Limericks. Great article, expecially when combined with the poetry articles above.

A college professor, Derek Bruff, had a great posting on How to read a math textbook. This is a skill that is too often not taught, just assumed. Although we all know reading a math textbook is radically different than reading other textbooks.

An entire website dedicated to Writing in Math Classes by Dr. Annalisa Crannell has lots of good resources for the math teacher. Again, it is geared to Calculus, but there is enough there to figure out how to use it in other classes at the high school level as well.

That is all for today. Hopefully, as always, it will help someone.

Jan 202013

I think like most teachers, I read a lot. When I say I read a lot, I mean a freakin’ lot, and I save articles that I think will have an impact on my teaching either now or later. This means I have an folder with a couple of hundred research reports and articles. Over the weekend the question was posted on Twitter whether or not anyone has anything to share on vocabulary in math class.

I has some articles and emailed them to the couple of people who requested, but it made me think that a terrific #Made4Math series would be to post some of the articles. It will be doubly good because it will force me to re-read the articles.

So today, I start with vocabulary in mathematics.

by Kathryn Sullivan

This article is short, and it gives a good introduction to many of the “little” words that we use in math class often that really does create problems for many learners. What surprised me was that it wasn’t words like add, subtract, etc. It is words like “the,” “each,” “how,” etc.

by Suzanne Irujo

This article is short (6 pages) and breaks down the different parts of English that are used in math class. It definitely makes you think about the difference between Academic and Informal uses of language. In math, it is almost entirely Academic use, which causes problems for the learner (especially the ELL learner.)

by Dr. Madeline Kovarik

This 20 page research paper gives some great insights into how important the use of and development of vocabulary is in the math classroom, and then it gives some curriculum insights into how to achieve good vocabulary learning. I need to study this paper some more, because I have only recently found this paper, but on first reading it seems a valuable addition.

is by the AISD Elementary Mathematics Department.

It is an elementary level research paper, but that is okay because it has some great insights into learning vocab and bridging the Academic vs non-academic language usage. It included black line masters, ideas for helping ELL and below level learners. It is completely of use to the secondary level teacher as well.

In addition, I found a book online and downloaded it. It is a good book on the issue, but there is no way I will post the pdf file. It is still copyrighted and would be a HUGE violation.

The book is “Teaching and Learning Vocabulary: Bringing Research to Practice” by Elfrieda H. Hiebert and Michael L. Kamil. I have found some great ideas in the book, but it is a little long and very dense reading. Here is a short review of the book to see if it is something you would like to purchase.

I hope this helps someone.

Dec 312012


My friend Anthony created a blog post the other day saying he was looking for the CCSS in Excel format instead of PDF format. He did all the work to create the file he needed, which made me feel a little bit bad.

You see, I have had exactly what he needed for the last 6 months, easily. I too, prefer to search and work in Excel. It is just an easier and faster platform to search and copy/paste from.

So, with that in mind, here are my files.


The main difference between my file and Anthony’s is the way the standard are presented. Anthony’s files are all in one tab, so searching / filtering for a complete strand is easier, while mine are broken up into different tabs for each grade level. Depends on what you need.  I have also indicated STEM standards with a “+”.

The one thing I have not done is changed all the standards to include the Cluster designation. That is something I need to do still. Besides that, the formatting is slightly different, but they are the same. I just felt bad he had to do all that work when I had what he needed all along.

I wonder how much other stuff is on my hard drive that other people can use?

Sep 162012

Where to start.

I have been thinking and working with the Exeter materials quite a bit in the last 3 months. I have come to see the value in the methods and the questions, and the way the questions cycle from lower levels to higher levels.

But I have to say I don’t see the Exeter curriculum as a magic bullet. It isn’t. There is no such thing as a magic bullet for math education. There is a lot of hard work. There are a lot of relationships to build with learners. There are many hours to put into lessons that engage learners to think deeper about the mathematical issues.

The Exeter Curriculum is a part of this process, not the end of this process. It is not something that will solve any problems. It is however, something that will help me, as a math teacher trying to improve my classroom, to engage learners, to develop deeper thinking, and to push the high standards of the Common Core into classrooms.

I am not confident of the efforts offered by the textbook publishers. Here are two examples of why:

If the CCSS is going to actually impact the classroom in a positive manner, we can’t take the same ol’ same ol’ materials and just slap on a new label. We need to structurally change and improve what we are doing.

That is where the Exeter Curriculum can come into play and help, and it creates the next problem I, as a public school teacher have. And this goes back to the first post I made, Exeter we have a problem. I had flashbacks of Apollo 13 as I wrote it because it is relevant. As the quote goes, “Houston, we have a problem” and the problem was absolutely centered in that little capsule. The experts who developed the program were on the ground and could go home safe and sound at the end of the day, but those astronauts needed to step out of their comfort zone and do something above and beyond.

As a public school teacher, I am in the same capsule. Our comfort zone has been stripped away and completely new standards pushed on us. We need to step up, or step out. It really does come down to that. The old guard who doesn’t want to change will be forced out through the new “evaluation” procedures that also have been forced down our throats by people who have no clue about education.

Okay, so the stage is set. Nothing I wrote above will change. Stop complaining.  What the heck am I going to do about it.

The Plan (or WCWDWT):

As part of our evaluation process I had to create a Professional Growth Plan. The plan I proposed and was approved was to take the Math 1 Exeter Curriculum and align it with the Common Core State Standards as well as simultaneously give the problems keywords and strands.

In addition, I have spoken with the two very nice and enthusiastic gentlemen from who have the technical background to take the entire project, upload it to their website, and host the problem sets, alignment, stranding, keywords, AND make it all searchable, selectable and downloadable for FREE (and that is free as in air).

What Can We Do With This? We can create a database of problems that are rich. We can create a database of problems aligned to the CCSS that are searchable, selectable and downloadable for use in the classroom by math teachers around the world.

What can we do with it then? That hasn’t been explored. We have to create the foundation before we can build the building. I have spoken with someone at Exeter and they are interested in the project. Of course, they can not help much. It isn’t their burden to take on, it is ours (and now mine!).

I have another teacher at my school who has agreed to take on this with me. She is absolutely crazy to do so, which means I am completely insane.

Aug 272012

After spending a hectic week planning and organizing for the department, I finally got to work on my classroom in a serious way on Friday and Saturday. It all came together and my classroom is ready.

So in the spirit of sharing, here is what my classroom looks like to the learners entering my room this morning. All photos can be clicked on to embiggen.

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Notice the little numbers held up by the Target $1.00 photo holders? How about the groups? This is the first time I have tried groups, and the encouragement of my twitter PLN has made me go for it.

Let’s take a little tour. Entering the room closer:

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My podium has on the side places / states I have visited on my motorcycle tours. There are quite a lot of different places, and this summer took me further East than I ever have been before. Some observant visitors here who attended #TMC12 and went to the Cardinals game will recognize a couple of the stickers.

In the podium I have a computer, a Smart Panel, an Elmo, and a KVM switch to further manage the managerie. In addition, the mess of cables snaking up the wall are 2 video cables, a sound cable, an S-Video cable and a 5 jack RCA cable which allows me to hook up an iPad or iPod to the projector. I have future proofed myself moderately well. Dang it is a mess though. That will be a future project somehow. Any ideas?

The right side of the room (with the door just peeking) is where I will post the date, the agendas of the day, and a quote of the day. I have 2 documents that total almost 200 pages of quotes in word format. I have always wanted something to do with them, and now I have a place for my quotes.

2012-08-25 15.03.09

Looking straight ahead in the room. My projector projects onto the whiteboard. I don’t have a screen, and although I could get one, I have found the whiteboard gives me much more flexibility. The only downside is the board is 3 square boards, not one long one, with silver aluminum edging around them. Last year I used white electrical tape; I was not happy with the results. The tape absorbed colors easily, and wouldn’t stay white. Problem solved with sandpaper and multiple coats of whiteboard paint to the edges. Now the edging is white, not silver so they blend in and won’t hold color. It WILL stay white.

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Continuing the leftward look:

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I have a cart on the left in the corner. It was open last year, so looked trashy. I used the Command Adhesive picture hangers to put fabric over 1 side. Now it looks all Star Wars, and matches the board on the right side. Yay.

And finally all the way over to the left, with my curtains and my trophy case for Speech & Debate. First tournament is in 3 weeks, so I have a lot of work to do in the next few weeks! eek.

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Aug 202012

Well, this is new to me, at least. I have used powerpoints in class, but this add-on allows you to do some different things with the software. I hate to compare this to Prezi, but clearly that is the only comparison to be made.

It is called pptPlex, and is a free add-on from Microsoft. Below is a video of my first use of pptPlex.

If you want some better introductions / helper videos on how to use pptPlex, I have some links below for you.

An introduction to pptPlex

Using pptPlex for infographics

Another pptPlex demo

A teacher who is really ‘excited’ about pptPlex!

Creating cool powerpoints using pptPlex

Official Microsoft videos for pptPlex below

Making Backgrounds with pptPlex

This on is just called “pptPlex”

Aug 132012

So far I have done some pretty good revamping of my classroom. I am a huge Star Wars geek and now my room shows it. Last year I was moved into my room 1 week before learners arrived. I barely had pencils in place and hang some pictures. Now, it is time to personalize.

Before I personalized my room: (click pictures to embiggen them)

2012-08-10 10.46.24 and 2012-08-10 10.46.08 and 2012-08-10 10.46.18

Please excuse the desks, the custodians haven’t cleaned yet so I have them all stacked for them. Um, 5 days before teachers arrive, I think they need to get a move on! See those 4 pieces of paper in the corner in the last picture? Those are learner quotes that I loved and saved. More on those in a sec.


2012-08-10 13.14.53 a close up 2012-08-10 13.15.12 and

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I used the Star Jedi font to make the signs. The sign on the upper left of the board says, “The Wall of Awesome”. That is a place where only learner quotes and awesome things they create is to go. Those quotes I had buried at the back of the room now have a front and center home. Now they reflect the importance they have to me. Buried at the back says learners = unimportant. Not the message I wanted to send. I have all the rest of the room, that is their place. The fabric is, of course, Star Wars, and the border on the side is Star Wars crepe paper streamer. I wanted it to be very colorful, and it is.

My website is no longer handwritten as an afterthought on the board, and the file I have with hundreds of quotes now has a good use. Every day I will put a new quote on the board.

Okay, now some signs.

On Friday, Sarah posted this on twitter: image

Which linked to a picture of: image

Now I am totally excited about that and need to make my own. I have no clue where to get the images though so I do the research and find the site: Sweet. The Like and Twitter logos are easy. Here are the searches I used. Twitter and Facebook Find the one you like, download.

With the ecard, I ended up with 2.

Just met you study maybe or Just met you study maybe 2

Hmm, which one should I use? hmmmm

But it wasn’t just make and copy it and save. I had to work it a little bit.

First, make the ecard you want. That was hard. Lots of images to choose from, and you choose the color as well. My school colors are teal and black, so I tend towards teal when I have the choice.

Next, use a screen capture tool like Snag-It or Snipping Tool (built into windows 7). Copy and paste into Photoshop. [warning copyright violation in next sentence] Use the clone tool to erase the website and copyright info to make it cleaner. Finally, increase the pixels from 400 or so that the website creates normally to 1200 or so.

This last step is VERY important. Photoshop (and other image software) will increase the pixel size without pixelating the picture. If you don’t do this, you will permanently have a small image. Not cool. Full images of everything are available if you click them. Feel free to download and save.

And that, my teacher friends, is my #Made4Math contribution for today.