Best Hand Wins (aka Poker)

I few weeks ago in 8th grade we were working on rules o exponents. The kids had completed an exploration and figured out the rules (and hopefully understanding the why behind the rules) but they needed practice. So I took a worksheet full of practice problems and divided it into six parts. The first sections started off with easier problems and then got harder as the sections went on.

I started the hour by shutting the door (and I never do that) and I said that we were going to do something that I wasn’t sure was legal (boy did I have their attention then) as I heald a deck of cards in my hand. I told them how they were going to practice what they had learned about rules of exponents by playing a little game. I then explained the game.

Students got into groups of four and worked on the problems. Once they had a section done they would send a representative back to me and I would tell them if they were right or not. If they were, that person was to pick a card. If they weren’t, they needed to go back and try again. At the end of the activity they could have up to six cards. I said we would then pick a winner by a predetermined set of rules as to which group had the best card hand. By this time they had figured out it would be by poker rules for best hand. And they were saying “ooh, we are gambling in school.” And the. Of course I would play it up and say no we weren’t and so on and so forth.

Anything to get them a little bit excited about practicing math.

Things I would change – I wouldn’t put as many problems in one section. We actually had to continue this the next day, but it was a pain because I had to collect the cards back for the next hour but then had to give the exact cards back the next day. I would make sure it could be completed in one day.

Exciting things that happened – one group had their first three cards be king, 10 and ace of the same suit. It was flu to see their reaction when their next card wasn’t one that was going to get them the royal flush. Winning hand the entire day was there of a kind (by the rules we were using to determine the best hand – ha ha)

Here are some pictures from the day.

Best hand wins

Best hand wins – 2 aces is looking promising.

Best hand wins

Best hand wins

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Posted by on April 24, 2013 in Uncategorized


Speed dating in the math classroom.

I’m always looking for ways to let kids practice in class without necessarily even realize that is what they are doing because they are having a little fun doing it. We are working on solving systems of equations and started out by solving via graphing. This way they truly understand what they are finding when solving a system.

Next day I wanted them to do the “set equal to method” (aka substitution when both equations are solved for the same variable.). Not necessarily a hard task but it is something they need practice on solving. So I pulled out Kate Nowak’s (one of my math teacher idols) math speed dating activity. Basically the desks were lined up with two desks per pod. I had 12 groups.


Look at them working so hard! Love them all!

I made 12 sets of different equations and numbered each set. I then handed out a set to each group being mindful of the level of difficulty when I initially handed them out. I told the students they needed to solve their problem in their group and become “experts” at their problem. When they were done I checked their answers and helped clear up any mistakes.

After students had become experts at their problem, I had the student sitting In the middle isle change desks behind them so they were sitting with a new person that had a different problem. (After thinking about this I didn’t necessarily have to do this but it worked.). They students then exchanged note cards and solved the new problem. Here is the great part – if they were confused, they had an “expert” sitting across from them to help! Also I knew the correct answer was their as well. After each group was done I made sure the kids had their original problem in hand and had them “speed date” – one person stayed in their spot and the other person switched to the next table and the whole process started over.

Fun things I saw – it was fun seeing students who sometimes struggle helping other students who were stuck on their expert problem. It was fun seeing the confidence level increase in solving these problems after a few dating rotations. It was also fun when I then had the whole class solve the “special” cases of no solution and infinite solutions when they were done and discuss as a class what was happening in those cases.

Will definitely be using this one again.


Posted by on April 17, 2013 in Uncategorized



Be Irrational – Celebrate Pi Day with your Students

pi day image

Here are some of the documents that I shared during my half of the Pi Day presentation at globalmath (2/26/2013).

Here is a copy of my powerpoint that I used.  I’m not one that likes to put everything I am going to say on a slide and then just read it – so either watch the recording of globalmath or read my notes that are available for each slide (or I guess read what I wrote below since I seemed to explain everything there as well – sorry).  Hopefully it will make more sense.

With so much going on during the actual day I need students (and parents) help.  To make sure everyone has a job and feels involved I use a sign up sheet.  Each hour has their own sign up sheet and everyone must sign up for something, but they can certainly sign up for more than one thing.  Generally after students have put their name down, I will email parents a little information and remind them to ask their child what they signed up for!  I could just see my son signing up to bring a  pi and not telling me until March 13th!!!

I want to remind everyone a lot of these ideas did not come from me, but unfortunately I can not remember who the presenter was at a NCTM conference that I got all this great information from.  If that person ever reads this – please let me know so I can give credit where credit is due.  The best thing, in my opinion I got from that presentation was the 10,000 digits of pi activity.  Here is the nicely set up document that allows you to put 10,000 digits of pi in your school.  I used adding machine tape for kids to write on.  Don’t kid yourself.  This will take some prep time – 1) cut strips of adding machine tape – I used 10 tiles worth in my classroom for each strip.  2) Students will need to write their numbers – which is where this lovely document comes in handy. 3) You will need to tape all of the strips together – in the right order (well actually no one will probably notice) and hang them up.  This is where you will need a system and a few extra hands.  But to me it was worth it walking down the hallway listening to everyone comment about it.

Another thing I enjoy doing is a Pi Day scavenger hunt.  Students don’t need to go around looking for things for this scavenger hunt – they need to search in the digits of pi for certain things.  Here is the scavenger hunt questions I use.  Obviously you will need to change a few things since I’m guessing your students won’t care where my husband’s birthday falls first in pi!  The best thing I use the scavenger hunt for is determining who gets pie first.  Not everyone runs to the table to get the pie and it’s not up to me who gets what kind!  (Although if anyone brings a french silk pie – I definitely get first choice!!!)

Final favorite thing that I have done, which I am sure a lot of teachers do something to this effect, is assign each digit of pi a color and then make a paper chain (or a bracelet, etc).  I like the paper chain activity because we then use the chain as a count down to the end of school.  I teach 5 different sections and there will be 40 days left for us after pi day, so our chain will be 200 links long.  Then every hour of every day a student takes a link off.  It is very fun to watch the chain get shorter and shorter as the year winds down.

I would love to hear any of your suggestions/ideas for what you do to make pi day so fun and irrational!


Posted by on February 26, 2013 in Uncategorized



How to get pre-calc kids to want to practice identities?

We have started the identities chapter in pre-calc class. In my opinion kids just need practice, and lots of it. So that is what we did today. I give a bunch of problems, they would pick they ones we wanted to go over and we would. Until halfway through I thought they (and me) we dragging. So I decided we should play trashketball. That got their interest. Decided it was them against me. They needed to come up with a team answer (as a class). If they were right they got to shoot for points (further back they stand when they shoot the more points they get if they make it). Every time they answered a problem I also got to shoot. Fun things that happened:

1) they would argue discuss with each other if people had conflicting answers. I even had kids get up out of their seat to go over and show how to do the problem correctly, because I wouldn’t take a team (class) answer until they all truly agreed.

2)students would always try to shoot from way back. I always shot for 3 points (about 6 feet away – yes, I have trashketball markings on my floor!) I was on FIRE with my short shot.

3)with 2 minutes left of class I told them we were done (I was leading 7 to 6). They BEGGED me to do another trig identity problem so they could win! Gee kids I guess we can squeeze one more in! Haha. Funny part was they still missed the shot. I win! 🙂 But as they walked out after the bell rang a kid grabbed the ball and asked if he made it from the door if we could call it a tie, I said sure. Wouldn’t you know – he made it. Good day in Pre-calc.

P.S. there are different ways to play trashketball. Google it and you’ll find lots of ideas.

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Posted by on February 22, 2013 in Uncategorized


C U G formative assessment

I just attended a session at Global Math Department. The topic was formative assessments. Last year I attended a training where I picked up a good idea for having kids self-assess on tests/quizzes. In front of each question put a C U and G. Instruct students to circle one of those letters after they answer each question.

Circle C for “I was confident in my answer”
Circle U for “I was uncertain of my answer”
Circle G for “I guessed”

This really works well for some of my multiple choice standardized test prep activities.

While grading the tests be thinking about things like “17 kids were uncertain out of 20, we need to spend more time on this”. Or “billy guessed on over half of the test, we need to work together reviewing”. Or better yet “10 students were confident in their answer but got it wrong, what mistake are they all making” (or in my case sometimes “is my answer key wrong” haha)

It is also good for the kids to analyze their questions right/wrong with how they circled C U G. They really want to find their mistake is they had chosen C. Hard part I have is sometimes getting them to care on the questions where they circled G and got it right guessing.

I haven’t done this in awhile but I’ve gone to short quizzes in my college calc class that I think this will work great in. Glad Global Math made me think of this tonight.

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Posted by on February 20, 2013 in Uncategorized


It’s been awhile

Wow, it has been awhile.  Life happens.  

Things have been going great around here – other than being really busy.  Standards Based Grading is still great.  So many changes that I want to do still over the summer to improve more, but definitely not going back to the traditional way.  

Discovering blogging/bloggers has really changed the way that I teach and hence my students learn.  I have learned so much over the course of this year it is amazing.  So many great ideas out there that teachers are wiling to share.  So thanks to everyone who I have stole an idea from ever!  (and there are a lot of you!)

So now it’s my turn to give back.  Here are a couple things that I am doing. 1) I am actually presenting at Global Math Department.  These people are my math idols (and yes, I stalk them on twitter!) and I actually feel like I have something that I can present.  Pi day.  Last year I went ALL OUT for Pi day and I am going to share some of the things that I did.   2) I have put in a proposal to present at our state conference.  I am going to present on ways to make a review worksheet a little more engaging than just a worksheet – like my kids’ favorite – TRASHKETBALL and others.  Now I just need to submit my proposal to the district and ask to go!  ha ha 

I will share both of the above things on here when time comes and I have things ready.  As well as other things I’ve done this year that I have been meaning to blog about but haven’t yet.  Oh well.  There are worse things that I could not be doing – like not doing SBG!

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Posted by on February 13, 2013 in Uncategorized


A day in the life (of a math teacher)


5:30 – alarm goes off (I woke up at 5:29 – internal clock is great – except for weekends).  Got up and did my usual fb/email check.  A student emailed me last night about an online homework deadline he missed.  It was his first one, so immediately went in and extended the deadline (like I’ve never missed a deadline) and replied back to his email. Also printed off the quizzes that I made last night for today, as well as found an practice worksheet for the kids to work on after their quiz.

6:00 – husband wakes up and my “quiet time” has ended.  Time to get ready for school before the kids wake up

6:45 – kids wake up – make sure everything is ready with them. Youngest showed me how far he read in his book last night – no wonder he is tired.  : )

7:15 – out the door to get to school.  Very short drive, but still takes time to get everyone loaded and dropped off.

7:20 – stop by the office before I even went to my room to copy my quiz for 8th grade.  If I see an empty copier I jump – wish we had a district copy center where we could send papers and they would get copied for us. Bonus of that – I wouldn’t wait until the last moment to do everything.  On the way to my room I dropped off my lunch in the lounge (yea for me remembering it)

7:35 – finally made it to my classroom.  Put my coat away and grabbed the college algebra test to head downstairs and copy it.  As I’m walking out the door a college algebra student comes in for questions on their review assignment.  Funny how the last six problems of the assignment were the ones he had the most trouble with….or could be he just didn’t get the time to finish and thought it would be easier to come in and have me help rather than figuring it out on his own.  I’ve been wrong before but…

8:00 – helped the student with college algebra – got the tests copied – printed off the alternate schedule for today (veteran’s day program – don’t ask me why it was on Tuesday???), greeted kids as they came in a dropped their stuff off for first hour.  

8:10 – first hour starts.  8th grade – hand out the sheet I want the students to work on after their quiz, work the first problem together to model what is expected.  Hand out the quizzes- concept 10 (solving one variable equations) and concept 11 (word problems to math symbols) are on the agenda for today.  Which is why it was very important I have something productive for the kids to work on after the quiz since this is the third time quizzing on 10 and some have mastered that concept and don’t have to take it.  While they are taking the quiz I review what we are covering in college calculus today and start filing some papers from one of my many piles…Students are done with about 15 minutes.  I have them compare what they have finished on their sheet with other students as I walk around and see how they did.  We will officially go over it tomorrow.

2nd hour – (I forget what time this officially was since we were on alternate schedule) pretty much the same as first except I realize that one question on the quiz was a no solution answer and I didn’t intend for it to be.  So I need to tell everyone the new problem.  (sorry 1st hour!)  While they are taking the quiz this time I am still filing, making an answer key for the college algebra assignment and emailing back and forth with the school nurse about our first responders drill we had yesterday.  I am a first responder (yea me!) but I thought it would be good to email all the teachers and remind them of our protocol of calling the office and the office gets everything in motion – that way we won’t have 20 million people calling 911 and the first responders get their quicker to start whatever is needed.  only 10 minutes extra after the quiz here.  I spend a few minutes talking about appropriate assembly behavior…basically said – if you don’t want to pay attention, I can’t make you, but you still need to be respectful of the presenter and the people around you – so keep your yap shut.

3rd hour – (again I don’t know what time this is) college calculus.  I quickly ran down in between hours and copied a practice sheet on log derivatives.  Yesterday’s lesson didn’t go as well as I had hoped and I knew they needed more practice.  So we started the hour with that.  I think it helped.  what didn’t help was the fact that I forgot the band kids got out 15 minutes early to go get ready for the assembly.  It also didn’t help when a kid asked if they could get out 5 minutes early.  that always bugs me…if your band teacher thought you needed to get out at 9:55 he would have put that in the email.  

10:27 – kids dismissed for assembly.  I rush to the gym to make sure my 8th graders are sitting in the right spot and so I know where I need to position myself.  When I say “that class” teachers know what I mean.  I thought our teachers did a nice job of positioning themselves in the problem areas.  I sat in the back so I could see them all.  Very nice assembly, but I feel I didn’t enjoy it as much as I could have because I was constantly worried about kids misbehaving.  Other than a few chatty girls I thought they did a fabulous job.  

11:24 – assembly ran over – go figure – it’s my prep next.  : (    Waited for the gym to clear out before I left. Stopped in the lounge and grabbed an apple (I know – kind of cliche, but someone brought apples for teacher appreciation week I think.  teachers don’t turn down free food.)  Went to my room and started preparing tomorrow’s college algebra lesson – brand new class for me.  I am never more than a day ahead – sometimes kids comment how the papers are warm!!!)  Kid from this morning comes in again.  Still not understanding – hmmmm.  With 5 minutes left in my prep I put the college algebra tests on the desks so students can get started right away.  With the alternate schedule kids are worried about not having enough time (this hour is 4 minutes shorter)

5th hour – regular bells were shut off and someone in the office hasn’t rung the end of 4th hour bell yet.  My kids are going to FLIP OUT.  so I call down to the office to remind them.  While the students are taking the test I create the answer key for that.  I then continue to work on tomorrow’s lesson – get it done and print it out.  I decide to let the kids stay for 10 minutes after class if they want more time – usually I don’t do this.  No one hands in the test early but only 5 stay and take advantage of the extra time.  (one girl thanked me for allowing them extra time – so sweet)

lunch – (which is now 10 minutes shorter btw).  head to the lounge and was going to reheat my chili and noticed our community ed people have put a crockpot of veggie soup in their as a fundraiser (vaguely recalling and email). I think this is great since I won’t have to take the time to reheat my chili (since I’m already down 10 minutes).  WRONG CHOICE.  Crockpot was still on high – burned my tongue  : (  But entertained the staff! so I guess it worked out.  Most days I love the conversation in the lounge.  Today was one of them.  Good stories shared today (including one about a female walking into the males bathroom.) Quickly finish my soup (after I add some water to cool it down) decide to take a to go bowl for tomorrow – problem is – I forgot my money.  Quickly go check my mailbox before 6th hour

6th hour – pretty much the same as other 8th grade hours.  Although I do have a student who I haven’t seen in probably 4 days come today.  He is frustrated on his quiz because he doesn’t know exactly what to do.  Shocking isn’t?  <sarcasm font>  about 10 minutes after the quiz in this hour.  Had a brief discussion on how I thought they did a tremendous job at the assembly.  

7th hour – supervision hour (but my supervision is after school so I have this free) – took some money down to community ed to pay for my soup.   Came back and emailed back and forth with a parent confirming our meeting time for 4:00 today.  Had to email syllabi for my college classes to the college – hello – I already did that at the beginning of the year.  Actually worked a little ahead in college algebra – at least converting all of the power points to notebook files for the upcoming chapter.  Went down to the lounge and grabbed my homerooms grade reports for the 3 weeks.  I also made an excel sheet to keep track of who owes homework rooms and how many (more on this discussed after school)

Homeroom 3:00 – Hand out grades (2 students are missing that were here during the day – I’m confused).  Remind the students on the thank you letters they are going to be writing this week.  I decided to have my homeroom students write a thank you note (to be delivered during thanksgiving week) to an adult in the school system that has affected their life.  Today I ask them for who they are going to write too.  Very interesting who they pick.  Another 8th grade homeroom teacher brings in a giant poster board and suggests that we make a congrats card for our teacher of the year (just announced yesterday) who happens to be an 8th grade teacher.  So we quickly do that as well.  Or at least everyone signs their name – we will have to decorate the cover tomorrow.  

3:15 – school is over – I head out in the hall to try and track down my 2 missing students.  Found one – he was at the high school wrestling meeting – I remind him that he needs to check in with me first.  Turns out the other one was there too.  Head back to my room to supervise homework rooms (any student with a d, f, or inc on a grade report must stay after school for extra help.)  Today I had three students – conveniently who need to work on math – unfortunately they all need different concepts.  So I do my best bouncing between the three.  Two think they are ready to re-asses. So I give them a new assessment.  the other – instead of anther assessment, I quiz him myself.  Before they leave I make plans with them on what other concepts they need to get proficient in and what they can do tonight to prepare.  

3:45 – those kids leave.  I quickly go to my computer to print off a grade report for the parent conference I am having at 4 (remember my day is officially over at 3:45, but this kid needs a little intervention so I’m happy to stay).  My oldest isn’t happy we are staying longer so decides to walk home.  Fine by me.  head to the printer to get the grade report – meet mom in the hallway.  She says I have a little time until dad and kid get here so I go to the copier and start the college algebra lesson going.  Leave it there (it will still be there in the morning) and go to my parent conference

4:35 – conference is over.  Head across the hall to another teacher and discuss the day.  Talk about how adults can find anything to complain about.  (after I left her room I realized we were complaining about it…)Went back to my room and gathered up all the papers I need to take home to grade.

4:55 – get home.  (but not before I had to run back to the school to take my oldest – who decided not to walk home but to hang out with his friends before bball practice – his parent permission slip for basketball. Decide I need to head to Sioux Falls (town about 30 minutes away) to get some things and get groceries for thanksgiving (this is an entirely off task topic that would take a long time to explain so I won’t)  

5:30  = leave for sioux falls.  peaceful drive over and back – got to call some of my favorite people and catch up.  not so peaceful grocery shopping.  stopped at hobby lobby and picked up some colored rock for my respect jar.  

8:30 – home now and groceries are unloaded and put away.  Time to start grading my tests.  I grade one page at a time so I have some consistency.  My initial reaction is they are doing horrible.  Once I actually figure out their overall grades I realize it was just a few who did bad.  Some did really good.  I know they are anxious to know their scores, so I enter them into our online grading system right away and send an email out that they are entered and thanking them for their hard work this chapter – it was long!  (oh, I almost forgot – as i’m grading I listened into the global math department session on homework.  very interesting.)

9:30 – I start to figure out some sort of review for calculus tomorrow.  they have a test on Friday over derivatives (which is another long chapter).  

10 – finally have an idea of what I’m going to do with calculus.  decide to check out facebook and blogs – man -people have been busy blogging tonight.  don’t get them all read.  

10:30 – decide that instead of grading 8th grade quizzes tonight I will go to bed and get up early (remember  quiet time) and grade them then.  but here it is – now 11:30 and I’m still awake – I guess I thought I needed to blog about my day. 

Well there you have it.  In the process of my night I did visit with my kids and husband as well as respond to some texts from family and friends. (I don’t want people to think i’m a bad mom)  No tv for me tonight.  thank goodness for DVRs.  I think the voice results were on tonight – as well as Parenthood.  Love those shows.

OMG – I need to go to sleep.  This wasn’t one of my better teaching days – since I didn’t do much, but it was certainly busy enough and I think it shows rather nicely – a day in the life of a math teacher.  


Posted by on November 14, 2012 in Uncategorized