Thursday, October 24, 2013

Scientific Notation and the National Debt

Today was one of those great days I want every day to be like.  We have been working on scientific notation in 8th grade and we've learned to add, subtract, multiply and divide.  I wanted to do an activity to pull it together and let them get some practice with their new skills.  I found some good activities around the web, but nothing truly jumped out at me.  Then I somehow I started thinking about the 17 trillion dollar national debt. I thought this might be something that would catch their attention since they weren't too impressed with bacteria or the distance or mass of planets.  
So we started off with a little video to get an idea about just how much money we're going to be talking about.  I ended up showing them this one: 
I was pretty blown away by the size of the money myself!
When that video was made the total was 16 trillion.  We talked a little about the debt, and they were totally interested. They had a ton of questions!  Mostly asking why do we owe so much, what happens if we don't pay it, will we ever pay it off.  A lot of kids think that if we don't pay it off other countries are either going to bomb us or buy the country and take over.
Then I showed them this on the board: 
I messed up a little because I thought they were born in 2001 but most were born in 2000.  It was close enough though.  I had them think about and write down what they noticed and wondered about the information.  I had questions written down that I wished they would ask but I didn't say anything and let them think.  
My first class totally caught on and asked great questions:
Can we round the number and use scientific notation to make calculations easier?
How much is the debt per person?
How many times greater is the debt today compared to 2001?
What is the difference in the debt between 2013 and 2001?
How much has it grown per year?

We had about 5 good questions on the board and a whole lot of questions that we couldn't answer with the information given.  I starred the good ones and told them to pick three that they would find the answer to by showing their work and explaining what they did.  I am going to give them some more time tomorrow to work on it, but so far the work looks good!

My second and third classes had a little more trouble coming up with the questions, they couldn't get passed trying to find out when it would be paid off or if it could ever be paid off.  I told them they needed to think about questions we could solve in class with the information given.  We are going to work on it some more tomorrow and they will write their final solutions.  

So now what I am thinking is how to do problems like this in the beginning of lessons not just as an assessment.  I would love to introduce topics this way and have them excited to figure out how to solve them.  I think what holds me back is if I give them problems that they don't know how to solve yet they will get frustrated.  However, I need problems like this to get them hooked and focused!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Twitter #MTBoS Mission #2

In the midst of lesson planning hell (another post in the works here) and I've decided to pick up on my #MTBoS missions.
Truthfully, I wasn't going to complete this one.  I have this really weird relationship with Twitter.  I love it for the amazing PD I've gotten from it, yet I feel guilty becuase somtimes I feel like I don't really have anything to contribute.  Well, I guess I didn't until recently.
So let me back up, I am going to admit I didn't follow the formula for the number of activities Justin suggested.  Here is what I actually did:
I did introduce myself using #MTBoS
  1. Hello ! I'm a math teaching momma who loves rock/punk music and pumping iron!
The cool thing was that one of my followers didn't know about the #MTBoS so I was able to share and that made me happy.

Then I found my Twitter history and my first tweet which was on 8/17/11
2011-08-17 14:14:03 +0000 web The countdown is on! Back to school in 11 days...

Pretty cool!  This was before I had my permanent job and I was going back to the district I student taught at as a long term sub.  They offered me a para position right at the same time I got offered my current job in November of that year.  What a strange time that was, I was so unsure about working in a charter school in a really "rough" town that I almost turned it down for a para job!  Now I love my school and my kids and the town I work in that I can't even think of leaving (although $$ wise I really should start looking, as charter schools pay crappy compared to regular public schools.)

Then I tweeted to people I follow and this was where it got uncomfortable!  So, I said "Hi" to Justin since it was his mission :), Heather @Scott22Heather, because she was a mom and taught 8th grade like me and then finally, Robert @RobertKaplinsky since I just found his website and really love the problems on it!

According to the formula I was supposed to do 4, and I only did three unless I stop now and go do another one!  Eh what the heck, why not...
LOL that one was easy peasy!  I opened the #MTBoS feed and retweeted something I found compelling:
There is way more to integers than I ever thought of before. Thanks to for getting my brain in complete overload!
and I picked that one since I am in the middle of my Operations with Rational Numbers unit with my 7th graders!  I can't wait to find out what Kathryn was talking about since I am knee deep in integer operations right now!

Ok so I've competed this mission!  I have discovered the value of twitter to my career a long time ago, so this mission has helped me get a little more involved, which makes me happy!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Day 38: Friday Night Recap

Trying to keep my blog current.  It seems I get caught up and the days just fly by.  When Friday rolls around I have the time and leisure to read and write blogs and twitter, but yet I am exhausted and drained.

This was a good week, math coach came in on Monday and she is always helpful, this time just confirming what I've been thinking.  Time to really switch over to the math workshop model.  I started the year off following the training I got over the summer on our new textbook series Math in Focus, but so far it seems like too much of direct instruction. After the dismal 1st test results I've decided to fully commit to workshop or at least more student problem solving.  So far this week I've been pleased with the way things are going.
Definitely need to blog more often about what is happening in my classroom daily.  Like I said by Friday, my brain is kinda mush.

One thing I can share today though is a new strategy I tried out called TAPPS, Think aloud, partner pair and share.  One student is the problem solver, the other is the listener.  The problem solver has to solve the problem aloud while the listener listens and writes it down.  It is the problem solvers job to make sure the listener understands the problem and how to get the solution.  Then the listener shares with the class or the teacher explaining the steps and answering any questions. If the listener notices a mistake they are not allowed to interrupt with "No! that not how you do it you have to do this..."  The only thing they can do is say things like "I don't understand why did you do that?"  Questions to make the problem solver really reason out why they are doing each step.
It worked great with my students.  A lot of them said they could solve the problem easily but had a hard time explaining it to their partner. That is what really sold me on this,  I am so happy that they are going to have a chance to practice communicating  about math!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Engagement 101

Planned to do a review of multiplying and dividing fractions with my 7th graders.  I knew that they probably needed the review, but I also knew their eyes would glaze over if I threw up some plain old problems on the board to have them solve.
So I found a picture of a Hershy's bar...Not quite ready to let them loose on the picture alone, I gave them the following prompt.
You have 3/4 of your candy bar left when your sister steals 2/9 of it!  How many rectangles did she take?
I gave them 5 min to work alone, 5 to work together and the we shared out.  They gave me multiple ways of finding how much 3/4 of the candy was in rectangles, then found multiple ways of finding how many pieces 2/9 was including multiplying 3/4 x 2/9 which was the original plain old problem in the book!  Then they had to prove that 1/6 was two pieces without the picture.  It was soooo cool!  They were 100% engaged and talking math like little mathematicians!   We spent the whole class doing fraction problems based on the candy bar including division problems that they made up. I was in heaven.
That was my "high" class.  I thought why not give it to my low group and see how it goes.... SO freaking glad I did!  They needed a little more redirection and nudging to the right direction but yet again they really spent most of their time working on the math!  And invested in the problem/solution.

I almost didn't post this because I think its kind of a  "Well duhhhh" observation, but it was really powerful to me to see this in action and how great both classes responded to it.  My goal now is to make sure 80% of my lessons are like this.  I want 100%  but I need to be realistic.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Who Won the Contest?

I am excited to be participating in the Explore the MathTwitterBlogosphere program this year.  I did it last year and it really  showed me how important and useful blogging is!  The reason I joined this year is because I get really lazy about blogging and if I have missions to complete it will keep me focused and I will get some done.  If you are not sure what Explore the MathTwitterblogosphere is, click the link to find out!
The first mission for participants who already have a blog is to write about either one of your favorite open ended/rich problems or something that makes your classroom uniquely your own.
+samjshah who posted the first mission followed the task with a very appropriate rant.  He talked about us teachers who think we have nothing good enough to share.  That is so me!  I couldn't wait to get the first task and write my post, but when I read it my heart sank.  I was sure I had nothing.  I thought to myself, well at least I'm going to get to read a lot of great posts and get some good ideas.  Which i already have!
I mulled over it most of the day and decided that I do have something I can share even though I don't think its really "mathematically rich" especially for the 8th graders I have do it. But it is extremely fun and I get to share my hobby in a mathematical way with my students, who by the end of the year have heard me talk a little bit about it. I do this at the end of the year, after NJAsk testing.  I think its great for showing them math in real life and also a little number sense.  They are so quick to grab calculators that they have a hard time doing simple addition, multiplication, division. 
So we will start with my hobby, Natural Competitive Bodybuilding.  I get a little embarrassed telling people right now since I haven't competed since 2008, right before I started student teaching and have shifted my priorities over to teaching (the sport takes mega amounts of dedication) needless to say I am a lot "fluffier" than your average bodybuilder!  Anyway, I still stay active with the community by tabulating at competitions.  Basically I am the score keeper.  I absolutely love it.  I get to sit at the judges table and until the results are announced I am the only one in the entire venue who knows the winners.  
So I start off by asking students to think about how the winners are determined in various sporting events.  They talk about basketball, baseball, soccer, tennis, hockey, then wrestling, martial arts etc.  We talk about keeping score and the math involved with that.  Then I ask them if they know how bodybuilding competitions are scored.  Most of them think they just pick a winner and that there is no math involved. 
There is some truth to that, I explain that there are 7 judges and what they do is put the contestants in order based on who they think should get first place down to however many contestants there are.   Once all 7 judges have created their list of say 1st place to 5th place, the score sheets have to be combined and a winner must be determined.
I had my friend who promotes a local show send me a set of blank score sheets and tabulation sheet.  For some reason I can only find the tab sheet on my laptop it looks like this:

Next I show them a video of the men's open portion of the competition.  I show them how the judges identify each person by their number on their suit.  They all have their favorites and ask me "who won!?"  I tell them that they are going to figure that out!
I distribute the seven score sheets to the groups.  I have them fill in each judge's score  and show them how we discard the highest and lowest score for each person.  For example, if the first competitor has 1,2,1,1,3,2,1, we cross off a 1st and the 3rd then add up the rest.  So this guy would have a total of 7.  in my organization we tend to have pretty big classes.  Some of the classes are up to 10 competitors!  The person with the lowest score is the 1st place winner and so on.
I tell students that these scores must be added up pretty quickly and they MUST be accurate!  If I make a mistake it could mean the difference of 1st place or 2nd place for a competitor. This show that I was using as an example is also called a "Pro-Qualifier" meaning that the first place winner earns their pro card and can compete in future competitions for prize money instead of just a trophy.  
This was a fun year too, because there were a lot of ties.  As soon as they got to the ties, they wanted to know what to do, so I ask them what do you think we should do?  Each trophy says the place, so you can't have two first place winners, 2nd place winners, etc.  They came up with finding the averages but found that it didn't help.  Next the lined up the two sets of scores and saw who had the most higher places.
The kids are really excited when they see how it turns out and they also see how math plays a big part in it!  After they are done I play the awards ceremony and they see if they are correct.

Finally they beg me all year to show them my competition, so I usually show them my routine from this show