Friday, November 21, 2008

Move and Learn

A colleague told me about an activity that she had done with her Intro to Algebra Students. She gave them each a card with a fraction on it. She then told them not to talk. They had to order themselves from least to greatest. They could write anything down that they wanted to.
I thought it was an awesome idea. I incorporated it the next day.
The first round I gave them numbers from -12/12, -11/12, -10/12, ...0 ... 10/12, 11/12, 12/12
They did this with only a couple of mistakes in about 4 minutes. I then made cards of the same exact numbers except all were reduced. -1, -11/12, -5/6, -3/4 ... and so on. The second round proved to be a little more difficult than the first round. However, there was a lot of computations going on. There was a lot of movement going on. And furthermore, after they set themselves in order, we checked to see that the order was correct.
And yes, there was some off task behavior when the students were lining up. However, I think they gained a better understanding of what a fraction is and where it belongs than if they had been sitting in their seats watching a fraction lesson.
Extend the Idea:
Give each person in the class an integer on a card. Then I will ask them to pair up with someone else and add their integers. Now ask the class to line up from least to greatest in PAIRS. The students cold multiply the numbers as well.
Move and Learn

Thanks Heidi Heslinga. I appreciate you sharing your idea with me.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Category Sort

This is the latest structure that I have been using in my classes. The directions for this activity are "Sort these into three categories" This gives the students a little less structure than normal. This is how I set it up.
  1. Partner work: I gave the slide to the students. Then, I had the student try to decide if they could combine at least two items together. They continued to put things into categories until they were all in three categories. The students worked together for about 3-4 minutes.
  2. Student Sorting and Explanations: Then I had a student picked at random to come to the board and put two of the items together. That student had to explain why they put the items together. The next student came up and put two more items together, or added to the previous students work. This continued until all the items were in one of the three categories.
  3. More Time: At times, I gave the students some work time with their partner to get the rest of the items into the correct category.
  4. Closure and Summary: Then we reviewed the activity and the key points of what was important.
Always make it student Centered: My goal will continue to make my class student centered. I'm at the back of the class and the students are in the front explaining why they placed items in certain categories.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

How would you mulitply 11 times 29?

Does it matter what way you work 11 times 29 if you get the correct answer?
  1. One way would be to multiply 10 times 29 which is 290 and then add another 29 which is 319.
  2. Another way would be to multiply 11 times 30 and which is 330 and subtract one 11 to get 319.
  3. Another way would be to add 11 plus 11 plus 11 ... and so on until you have done it 29 times.
  4. Another way would be to use the column method. See below.
  5. How about using a calculator?
Usually students are drawn towards the method that is easiest. Furthermore, students want what is easiest for them. Reviewing different methods is an excellent way to have students buy into a quicker method. So often I make the mistake of showing one way to do a problem. I think that I'm cheating some of my students when I do this because they lose out on the opportunity to add to their toolbox of methods of solutions. I think that by only showing one method, I'm sending a message that the way I cover is best, and whatever way you used to solve this problem is not as good.
So I think that I need to work harder at showing multiple methods to solve a problem. I need require my students to find multiple methods of solving a problem. At the high school level, it is more about how students are thinking to solve problems. I know they can get a solution. More importantly, how did you come up with it. Justify your thinking.
So, yes it does matter how you solved the problem. The way you solved it might just help me understand it a little bit better.

Friday, October 17, 2008

More on When Students Teach

I received an email this week from a teacher Susan McKay that gave an excellent suggestion.
She calls it "Teacher, Student Pair"
  1. Separate your students into pairs
  2. Have them designate one person a teacher and one person a student.
  3. Now give the class a problem for the pairs to work out.
  4. The designated teacher can only explain how to do the problem and the designated student can only write the solution to the problem. With these rules the pair must try to solve the problem.
  5. Remember, if you have the pencil, you can't talk. If you don't have a pencil, you can talk.
  6. Now give the class another problem and the pair will switch roles.
I can't wait to try this in my class. Thanks Susan!

Friday, October 10, 2008

When You Teach, You Learn

I have been a firm believer of the idea that when you teach something, you actually learn it better than you would if you just learned it traditionally. I have an example for you. A student today was explaining to another student how to find an equation of a rational function and stopped in the middle and said, "I don't know why there is a 3 in the equation." She realized that she had found the answer, yet didn't know why she had done something. In the middle of "teaching" it, she had to learn more herself. I thought, that was excellent. She taught herself by teaching someone else. Is it accountability? Maybe it is the idea that you genuinely want to help someone else do something correctly. I'm not sure. But it works.
I have been trying to have my students teach each other. Lately, when a student gets done with a math problem, I tell them they must walk around and help others arrive at the solution. By the time I have 3-4 other "teachers" helping me, the whole class catches on to the idea of the problem.
Give it a try. Students love to help others. Give it a try.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Text to Voice Lesson

I tried a matching sound lesson with my class this week. It went really well. I gave a problem like 3x + 5 -6x - 4. I made eight sounds altogether of which there were 4 matching pairs. For instance, one of the sounds was the word "coefficients". Another matching sound was the words "three and negative six". Remembering that they can't see these words. They have to hear them. I think they even have to visualize the numbers. This to me reaches a whole different set of students that are auditory learners in a visual classroom.
Structurally, I picked a student at random to come to the Smartboard and to pick two of the sounds. The student would play each sound twice and then return to their desk. I would then pick another student from the class at random. They would do the same thing. Eventually, the matching sounds would be discovered. A student would then be able to pick the pair and put them together. Success! Students were called up until all four matches were found. Give a try and let me know what you think.

I have a podcast on Smartboard Lesson Planning called Teaching with Smartboard. It is a site trying to help teachers with the integration of Smartboards into the classroom.

I last posted about a site called Since this post, the site has added a clip at the end of the MP3 file that advertises their product. This doesn't work out well in the classroom. I have found another site that I'm now using called It works great. Let's hope this site will continue to be free without the added advertisement.

Have a good week!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Cool Site
A colleague showed me this site and it is awesome. You just paste in some text to the site and it will change the text to a sound file in MP3 form.
You can change your text to a male or female voice (Mike or Crystal).
I see a variety of educational uses for this. Specifically for me, I can use MP3 sounds in SMARTBoard software.
I can't wait to make a lesson involving sounds with my Smartboard.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Brain Breaks

I think we all need a break from whatever we are doing at least every 25 minutes. This keeps us fresh and engaged. I know myself that I get antsy when I sit too long. I usually get up and take a walk, or find a couple minute distraction. In my classroom my students can't just get up and do that. I feel strongly that I need to create a brain break every 20-25 minutes.
I first heard about these breaks from Jean Blaydes Madigan. She has a lot of ideas about movement within the classroom. She came and did a workshop at our school and it was excellent. Since then, I have just heard of different ideas that I can use in my classroom. They have come from colleagues, speakers, or blogs. I want to hear about other peoples brain breaks so I created a website that we can do just that. It is called Brain Breaks. It is at Check it out and you can write a post as well.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

"Do Hard Things" a book by Alex and Brett Harris

I have been reading an excellent book by Alex and Brett Harris called "Do Hard Things". The idea is that we have low expectations for teenagers and usually they fulfill them. However, I have been challenged in my own journey by this book to take a leap of faith and Do Hard Things. The section that I'm currently reading is "You can't get to success without risking failure". This is how we often are paralyzed by the fear of failure into doing NOTHING. I certainly can relate to that. The amazing thing about this book is that these guys are actually teenagers themselves. They are (were) 19 when they wrote the book. They are twins.

So get the book, and then Do Something Hard this Week!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Teacher Movies

I saw a couple of teacher movies this summer and it made me think of my favorite teacher Mr. Voorhees. He was a math teacher. He has retired recently. I have made contact with him this past year and it was a thrill. He was always demanding, funny, engaging, and supportive. He believed in me. I will never be able to thank him enough. It makes me realize that the teaching profession has a lot of power. Teachers have the power to change someones life. We should not take this lightly.
I have seen all of these movies and would recommend any one of them. I have not put them in any particular order.

Mr. Holland's Opus
Freedom Writers
Lean on Me
Stand and Deliver
October Sky
Akeelah and the Bee
Dead Poet's Society
To Sir, With Love
Finding Forrester
Tuesday's with Morrie (TV Movie)

Thursday, August 7, 2008


I just found out about . It is very much like in that it is an online bookmark system. However, diigo has the added benefit of being able to highlight something in the favorite site that you have saved. What a bonus. A further bonus is that it will simultaneously save your favorites at diigo and delicious.
Just yesterday, I created a new free diigo account and had all my Delicious sites exported then imported to diigo. It was about 10 minutes worth of work. Now I can use my diigo account, yet keep my Delicious account active.
Lucy Gray taught me this. Thanks.

Here are my two sites. Feel free to check them out.


Saturday, June 28, 2008

I found a cool site on a blog the other day. The blog is called Practical Theory by Chris Lehmann. Click here to get to it. It is called Wordle. It is at It makes a cluster of words that you place into the site. You can change the colors and make a new layout if you want. I love the result. It is very easy to use. Here is a wordle I did recently regarding a 350 mile, 6 day bike trip that the Naperville Central Fellowship of Christian Athletes took. Click on it to see it better. If you want more information about the bike trip see

Let me know what you think,


Monday, June 9, 2008

Enjoy the Journey

I saw a child today taking a walk with an adult. The child would walk for a few moments and then stop to look at a something in the grass. Then, the child would walk a few moments more. And again the child would stop, and this time sit down. The child was enjoying herself so much. It was really refreshing to see a someone enjoying the journey so much. The child was not so focused on getting there. She was focused on enjoying now. We have much to learn from this little child.
I was thinking that we often do not enjoy the journey. We almost always desire to get to our destination as soon as we can. That means most of the time we are not enjoying ourselves because we are hardly ever at our destination. How about we start planning take some time to reflect and enjoy our journey. I know that I need to concentrate on this because I am far too often in a rush. I will work on thinking "Slow down and enjoy the moment".

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

School is a Place to Learn from your Mistakes

Our principal has recently made a mistake. He plagiarized a speech he made to the senior class during the commemoration ceremony. He openly admitted that is was a mistake. He did not acknowledge the person who wrote the speech before or during the speech. He said he had intended to ask permission, and just never got around to it. I know that this is a grievous error. However, I know the man behind the mistake. He is a man who works hard for our students. He is a person who honest and upfront when dealing with issues regarding our school and himself. I believe him when he says that he meant to ask the person who wrote the speech. It doesn't make it OK. It just means it was a mistake. To me it means a punishment (like a suspension) and then let's move on. Let's all learn from the mistake. It is a teachable moment. It means that we as human beings can grow from the things that we mess up on. School is a place to learn from your mistakes. Right now, our principal is being "reassigned". This is unfortunate in my opinion. I think that the punishment is a little too severe for the crime.

There are a few mistakes that we can't allow to continue in our schools;
1. Repeated violations of integrity.
2. Physical and emotional abuse to our students.
3. Neglect of students.

Most mistakes are just are opportunities to learn. Isn't that what we do in our class? If a student makes a mistake in my class I often take this route with them. I talk to them individually. I give them a consequence (if needed). We reflect and then we move on.

I am going to remember this when I deal with my students. I must think..."School is a Place to Learn from your Mistakes".

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


How can we get enough repetition in our classes?
This years Super Bowl commercials paid $90,000 a second to try to get you to buy their products. What is their goal? To help reinforce their product to you by repetition. They are trying to get enough repetition and not bore the audience. It must work. Because a lot of companies paid the 2.7 million dollars per 30 second spot.
We need to translate this to HS math. If I have an important point to make in class, I need to find creative ways to have it emphasized. Maybe I need to have the students discovery the idea. Then I will have them see it worked out with another student at the board. Then I might have a video of the same topic. Then I could give some practice on their own. It could be that they use individual white boards to go through the problem. I love Senteo clickers for the Smartboard so maybe I could use those to get the point across.
The average person needs 10-12 repetitions to learn a new concept. I think I need to remind myself and my students that it is OK to repeat a topic in different ways. This is comforting to students that they don't have to pick it up the first time. They are not slow for needing a few repetitions of the same topic.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Yearbook Time

I take it as a compliment when a student asks me to sign their yearbook. I try to write carefully that I really appreciated them in class. I don't always have the time to write as much as I want. For instance, I was about 1 minute away from starting my class when a student walks in and asks me to sign their yearbook. It was a senior and this was their last day. I thought, this is important. I took a moment to sign the yearbook and then was a little late getting my class going. That is OK. I feel that our students want our acknowledgment of them. For some of our students this is an easy way to have us recognize them. I find that some students that were complete goofs in class, ask me to write in their yearbook. I find it odd, but, I take this as a compliment. They must have thought my class was OK, otherwise they wouldn't have asked me to sign the yearbook. So we need to remind ourselves that our students want our support. Yearbook signing is one way to give it to them.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Pop Goes the Weasel and the Quadratic Formula

A student teacher that I had many years ago taught the quadratic formula to my class by song and it was a hit. I have students coming back to my class and telling me they remembered the QUADRATIC FORMULA because we sang it in class. I just used this recently. It is a great time for the class. Of course I sing it. More importantly, I have many of my students sing it. (sometimes I give out extra credit) Let's try it now.

Hum Pop Goes the Weasel to yourself...
Hum it one more time...
Now put these word to it...

X equals negative b
plus or minus the square root
of b squared minus 4 a c
all over two a

I found someone else did it to on you tube. Check it out.

Saturday, May 10, 2008


It is usually May when this happens to me as a teacher. I get crabby. One of my students will ask question, and I think, can't you figure that out on your own? I then proceed to answer their question with an attitude. That is a bad attitude. It certainly doesn't make me feel great about myself, and more importantly, my students suffer.
Crabbiness happens to all of us teachers. It is what we do about it that will make us different. Let's brainstorm.
  1. Share with another teacher your heart. Explain what has been happening and commit together to a positive outlook.
  2. Give your students a heart to heart. Be truthful and apologize for being crabby. Your students will certainly lift your spirits.
  3. Take a personal wellness day.
  4. Make a list of why you got into teaching.
  5. Commit to 100% concentration when the next student asks a question. Kind of like saying "Drop everything and Answer the Question"
What do you think?

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Newspaper Generator

I made this newspaper picture very easily at the site listed below. I can see this being a nice tool for students to have while creating papers or for entries for blogs. It is a free service. You put in the title, the date and some information and you can save the result as a jpeg to your computer. Newspaper Generator
Check it out.


It took me a total of about 20 minutes to make this 30 second clip. It is of my daughters and I during a daddy daughter dance in 2007. This is a free tool. It is very reasonable if you are interested in making a longer version. ($3 per video) I uploaded my pictures, and then picked some music from their selections. After that it took a few minutes to mix on their computer. Then it is finished. What a great product and very simple for students to use in their class. Give it a try at

Thursday, April 24, 2008


Actually it is I love this site because it is a way to organize all my favorite sites and allow them to be seen by others. Most importantly, they are all kept online so that I can use them from any computer. This site is perfect for the person who browses the web and finds a sites they like. All they have to do is click on a button (this is a quick install and goes directly into your browser) to TAG your site. This tagging system will give you suggestions of what categories to put your site in. Tagging gives you the ability to access your site through multiple names. For instance you might have a site on factoring. You would might tag this site with these names: algebra trinomials teaching factoring interactive.
There are other sites that do the same thing. I know that also does some of the same things. I started on delicious and like it so I will probably continue with it.
One thing that was a great relief to me was that I can import from my browser all of my current favorites. Also, I can export them back if need be.

Here is my delicious account:

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Magic Squares Revisited

Remember that magic squares are where you can add the row, column or diagonal to be the same number. You could use guess or check or a systematic algebra method.

Guess and check works and is fun.

However, our algebra students will like the systematic method of solving these.

Check out the solution using systems of equations.

Now you can go try using these with your students.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

New Growth

Our house has 4 houseplants. They all have remained about the same size for as long as I can remember. Most of the plants look old. They have jagged leaf edges. Sometimes the leaves are brownish. I've thought it was amazing that they didn't grow. Also, I thought it amazing that they didn't die.
For some reason, I decided to make an effort to water the plants on a regular basis. Actually, it has been Sundays. Every Sunday, I am watering the four plants. Something very amazing happened about 5 weeks after I started. New Growth. These plants had new shoots growing. I couldn't believe it. The big plant is like a tree and it has a new growth upward. The little table plant regained it's color. Incredible. All I did was give them some regular water and they have done things that I never thought possible.
So after I had been inspecting the new growths for about a week it hit me. Plants are like our students. They need constant attention to grow. They need daily/weekly attention just like my plants need weekly watering. If our students don't get that attention, they often don't grow. I think of just a simple word of encouragement. I think we can "water" our students by showing interest in what they are doing. Also, we can notice when they are absent. I realize that I not only need to make random acts of encouragement, but I need to schedule these acts so that growth can occur. I know the math is important, but it is also important to genuinely care for my students.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Google Reader

I found out about Google reader at a tech conference recently (ICE). It has been awesome. I get all the updates on many of my favorite websites by only going to Google Reader. It is like a customized newspaper. You can subscribe to many different publications like your favorite newsletters, newspapers, and blogs.
Here are some of the things that I subscribe to:
Focus on the Family
Teachers Love Smartboards
The Whiteboard Blog
What is School 2.0
Bulls Basketball Update
How do sign up? Just get a free gmail account at This will sign you up for all of the google services. Once you have a Google gmail account then you just go to and you will see some Google services at the top. Click on where it says more. You will see Reader as an option. Click on that and you will be ready to search for all of your favorite publications for free. Now when you go to Google Reader you will be able to see which of your sites have new posts. Check it out.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Change the Atmosphere

Why is it that some people have a knack at understanding driving directions? For instance, if you are explaining where a restaurant is and the person is completely engaged in what you are saying and can find it. Others will look at you with that glossy eyed look (we teachers see this from time to time) that says I have no idea what you are saying. I think it is because we learn differently. Another example of this is when someone says to me “do you know where Main and 15th streets are?” For me immediately I think of the picture of that intersection with the landmarks. I even remember the conditions of when I saw it the first time like cloudy or rainy. Others might remember the intersection from a map view. So, let’s relate this to the classroom. We set our classroom up to be the same for every learning experience. Maybe, just maybe, if we changed the atmosphere of when they learned something, they would remember it better. Just as I remember the conditions of an intersection, I think students remember the conditions of our classroom. So let’s alter it! I just thought of a few that I’m going to try:

  • Turn off the lights, and use flashlights to study the lesson.
  • Push the desks back and have everyone (even the teacher) sit on the floor
  • Turn on music while learning.
  • Have students bring in their favorite plant from home for the day
  • How about blindfold hour? You must learn only with blindfolds on.
  • How about everyone can only write with their weak hand for 30 minutes?
  • Turn all the desks 180 degrees.
  • Have all the students bring in a pet day
  • Teacher must sing directions.
  • Students must sing questions.

We will not reach everyone with this. However, I might reach some students that I have never even come close to getting through to. As teachers, let’s get ourselves out of our own comfort zone, because when we do, others are probably in theirs.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


Have you ever felt like you have tried everything to reach a student? Maybe you have tried positive reinforcement, or calling home, or even a contract? I have. Often when I think these things, I am at the give up point in which I start my negative "self-talk". You know, the speeches we give ourselves when something happens to us. The natural tendency is to say to ourselves "this kid is not going to change". I have been battling this "self-talk". I believe very strongly that what we "self-talk" will usually happen. Therefore, I think it is so important for us to shake our mind of the negative "self-talk". Here are somethings that I do when my mind drifts to all the negative things regarding a student:

  1. Try to think of one positive thing about this student. (sometimes this is hard)

  2. Find a time in which to communicate this positive thing to them. (this is really hard)

  3. Try to find an obstacle that this student has been battling and empathize with them. Maybe it's their home life. Maybe it is a lack of friends. Or maybe it is a lack of self confidence that is coming out in the wrong way. Then I use this to understand their situation a little better.

  4. If you think this about this student, then probably others think the same. Therefore who is going to stop the cycle?

  5. Think back to when you were in 8th grade. Do you remember? It was tough. I would like to think the adults in my life were rooting me on, instead of giving up.

  6. Make a point to say hello each time you see this student.

  7. I pray for this student and my attitude towards them.

"Whether you think you can or can't, you are right". Henry Ford

What are some techniques you are using to stop your negative "self-talk"?

I still believe each student can change,


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Magic Squares

Magic Squares have been around a while. It just takes me a while to find good things. For me, I just used them for the first time in my class today. Wow. They are awesome. There is so much algebra in them.

A magic square is where you can add the columns and rows as well as the diagonals to be the same number.

First, I gave the magic square problem with pieces missing. Which by the way was excellent for my introduction to algebra students. They had to do a ton of integer addition.

Then, the students who figured it out quickly, I challenged them to figure out the algebra of the square by placing an X in the middle square and branching off from there.

If students needed more challenges, I asked them to used this template and make a new magic square with their own numbers starting with X.

For me the next step is to ask what else can I use magic squares with? Polynomial addition? Fractions? What do you think?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Voice Thread

I just came across the site Voice Thread. Basically, it allows people to comment in words or with audio about a picture or video. You can see from this picture that many people have commented on the sides of the visual image in the center which happens to be a picture that a student had drawn. I have not used it yet. However, I was listening to a great podcast about it today and it sounded really exciting. Check out the podcast at: example to the right is at the link below:

Thinking Blocks

Reading a Blog called Tumbl'n Teachers today I saw a great site for teaching a visual approach to algebra word problems. And a bonus is that it would be interacitve for the Interactive White Board (IWB). It is flash based and there are some problems done already on it, or you can create your own problems. There is a video tutorial if needed.
Check it out.