Ugh.  What a horrible day today.  Every teacher’s worst nightmare- crickets.  If I thought I was amusing anyone other than myself, I would have pulled a “Bueller?  Bueller?”  So now I am sitting here thinking about what went wrong and what I should have done differently. 

Here is what we did:  The lesson was our first one in our data unit and we were looking at surveys and sampling methods.  We took a few notes on sampling methods, then I had the kids come up with the population, sample, and possible bias for a few different situations.  This was when the crickets started to sound.  They just couldn’t understand what these things meant and how they were different.  Then we did a population/sample/possible bias matching activity where I gave them a situation and a list of the populations, samples, and biases all mixed up.  They had to match the correct answers.  The tricky part was that I left one of the answers off of each of the situations, and they were supposed to fill that in. 

I have come to two conclusions…

1. I should have done a few quick notes then have them do the matching first before I had them come up with their own populations/samples/biases.  I also should not have left one off.  It was too confusing.  Next time I will just give them all of these pieces.  It was too much to do at once for something they had probably never seen before.

2. I really don’t think there is a problem with lessons that aren’t earth shattering and on-the-edge-of-your-seat engaging at every minute.  The world we live in has made a group of kids who tune out the minute I am not dancing around in front of them waving something brightly colored.  I sat through many many boring lessons where I had to take notes and spit the info back out and I learned the material just fine.  I do not thing we should have to make every single lesson a huge production.  However, this one still sucked 🙂


Slicing 3D Figures

One of the very first blog posts I came upon this summer when my blogging journey began was Julie’s Volume of 3D Shapes with Play-doh.  I have been so excited to do something like this since I read this post and since I found little tubs of play doh at the $1 spot at Target.

Instead of finding the volume, we used the play doh to do one of 7th grade’s new 7th grade stadards, slicing 3D figures.


Each of the kids was given a container of play doh and a plastic knife.  We formed 3D shapes and then made parallel and perpendicular cuts and examined the cross sections.  This was one of my favorite things we have done this year, and I am pretty sure the kids agreed!  They really seemed to get what we were doing and had a little fun, too!

The other awesome part was the kids were over the top impressed with my amazing sculpting skills.  And I do not have amazing sculpting skills.  But every single class was in awe of my shapes and how quickly I made them.  Great ego booster.

Surface Area and Volume- Skin and Guts

Today we did one of my favorite activities- Skin and Guts.  It is from an AIMS book- Effects of Changing Lengths.  I love AIMS products and I highly suggest checking them out if you haven’t already.

The kids are given nets of 3 rectangular prisms.  They create 3 people- One Man, Two Man, and Three Man.


In groups the kids measured the height of each man, the belt length of each man, the area of the face of each man, the area of the skins (surface area), and the guts (volume).  Then they looked at the scale factors of the length measurements (height and belt length) vs the area measurements (area of face and skins) vs the body measurements (guts). 

I love this activity because the kids get hands on measuring experience and they can visualize how changing one dimension vs two dimensions vs three dimensions really changes the numbers. 

I also had one of those great teaching days when I felt like so many connections were made and the kids were working on an activity that provided them with exactly the right amount of challenge that they could handle but yet kept them interested and working.  So many kids told me how much they loved this activity, which is also a plus!


#msSunFun- Homework


When I began teaching, we used the Saxon program and all kids had to do 30 problems each night.  I graded all of them.  I have no idea how/why I did this.  It was completely pointless.  Throughout the years, I have really struggled with homework.  I find it to be much more of a stressor for me since there are always kids who don’t do it and I hate that I care more about doing it than they do.  I do think it is very important for students to practice the skills we learn in class independently, and I really don’t like that we are moving toward kids not being used to having to do things like homework and I think we are setting them up to fail in high school and college when they must do these things or else they will just fail.  Unfortunately, when I get a 7th grader who has already learned that homework isn’t important somewhere along the way, I don’t feel like I have a whole lot I can do to convince them. 

What I have been doing for the last several years is assigning problems, but having the kids grade the homework themselves.  I talk a ton at the beginning of the year, and whenever I feel like they are forgetting this, that I am letting them correct their own homework because it is so important that they know what they know already and know what they need to work on, but that this only works if they are trying their best on the homework, and actually correcting it and asking questions if they get things wrong.  I have also been assigning a lot fewer problems at night (usually between 4 and 6 problems) and really trying to make sure it is not something that would provide them too much struggle.  Then they come in the nexet day, open their notebooks and walk around to see who has it done and who does not.  I comment on certain things I see or don’t see when I walk around as well.  Then I do the entire homework assignment with the help of the students, on the Elmo so that everyone can see what they should have done.  If they didn’t do their homework, they aren’t allowed to have out a writing utensil, but if they did their homework, they are required to fix and make notes on their assignment. 

With our SBG gradbook, we also have a homework module where we can simply check off whether a student does an assignment or not.  Then this combines into the “work management” section of our gradebook and gives them a score for how many assignments they have done.  While I like this, I also know that kids figure out pretty fast that doing vs not doing their homework really doesn’t affect their grade at all, and so many middle school kids lack the motivation to do the work simply because it will help them out.

One thing that I think helps is that we have an assessment pretty much daily after the homework is corrected that is on the material we learned the previous day.  So doing the homework often will have a big impact on whether they are able to easily take the quiz or not.

I don’t think it is a perfect system, but it is working well for me/us at this point!


Pi Day

I have loved celebrating Pi Day with my classes since I started teaching.  I think it is a great experience for the kids to do some fun, memorable things in the math classroom.  This year, I did a few new things and a few old things, but I couldn’t fit everything into Thursday, so we continued into Friday too 🙂

We started with Elizabeth’s Cookies, Cakes, and Pi, Oh My! activity from this post over at Hodge’s Herald.


Then we ate some yummy treats that the kids brought in.

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Then we read Sir Cumference and the First Round Table.  For years, I have been wanting to do an activity with this book, but I have never been able to make it work.  This year I put an insane amount of time into creating this crazy activity, and the kids absolutely loved it.


Each kid started out with this crazy sheet of paper.  Let me say again how much time it took to create this silly thing.  The first table that Sir Cumference makes is a rectangle.  The kids measured the rectangle and found the area.  Then he cuts the table in half and makes it into a square.  So the kids cut on the center line and taped it back together as a square.  Again, they found the area.  Then they did the same, creating a parallelogram.  Then an octagon, then an oval, then a circle.  Each of the tables that he made were made from the original rectangle.  The kids can see how changing the shape doesn’t change the area since they don’t actually cut anything off until the octagon.  Then I had the kids figure out what size circle they would need to make since the circle they made from the rectangle table is much smaller than the original rectangle.  It was exactly what I had imagined.


Crazy Cutting Activity

Then the kids created pi chains.  I have done this every year, and it is always a favorite.  Each digit is represented by a color and the kids have a competition to create the longest paper chain with the digits of pi.


Finally, we did a pi scavenger hunt from Sum Math Madness.


All-in-all, a very successful Pi Day this year!

#msSunFun- Grading Policies


This week’s #msSunFun is on our grading policies.  I know many people in the teaching world right now are moving toward standards based grading or are trying to make the decision.  I actually don’t have to make that movement or choice because we already do SBG district wide and our gradebook is set up just for this purpose.

This is the third year my school has done SBG, and I actually moved to this school the year they started doing it.  Previously I did traditional grading at my old school.  There are many many things I like about SBG, although I do feel like some things are a bit more difficult, and it is definitely something you have to get used to and work on in order to fully understand.

We have a 4 point scale.  a 3.0 is understanding grade level material, a 4.0 is going above and beyond grade level, a 2.0 is having the basic knowledge needed, a 1.0 is being able to complete grade level material only with a lot of assistance.  Students can also earn 0.5, 1.5, 2.5, and 3.5 for being in between (or below in the case of 0.5) those things.

I would say the biggest thing I have learned is to make sure to write down a scale for each one of my assessments to keep things consistent.  So if I give a 4 question quiz on area of trapezoids, I would write down something like

4 correct = 3.0

3 correct = 2.5

2 correct = 2.0

1 correct = 1.0

This part would totally depend on the type of material I was assessing.  Even more importantly, I would look at the mistakes each students could make.  For example, students could choose the wrong formula, they could use the correct formula, but instead of adding the bases, they could multiply them, they could do a basic multiplication or addition miscalculation, they could not include units at the end, they could not square the units… so then I decide where I think these things fall on the scale of “understanding” the problem or “meeting grade level”.  This is where it gets difficult.  So if a student gets 4 correct answers, but doesn’t include units, are they really performing at grade level?  If they are asked to find area and perimeter, and their units are squared for perimeter and not squared for area, do they really understand the difference between both?  If a student does everything correctly except for they make a basic addition mistake, do they really not understand the objective of finding area of trapezoids?

I do love SBG because kids can’t have an A in the class simply because they work hard on homework and have an F in the class because they don’t do anything.  They actually have to know their stuff and earn their grade.  The grade they have is definitely refelective of what they know.

What I don’t like is for both parents and kids, a kid who receives a D or F knows that isn’t good.  Their parents know it too, obviously.  And I feel like before these kinds of grades would ignite some sort of fire to work a little harder next time for most kids, and parents would certainly understand at conferences that this was not acceptable.  However, no one really understands what a 1.0 means.  We all do our best to explain to the kids and parents what this really means, but it still doesn’t have the impact that an F has.

Overall though, I think we are on a great track in education with this movement and I am happy that I don’t have to try to do it on my own like many of you are trying to do right now.  It is much easier that all of us are in this together and so we are all explaining the same things in every class every year.

Test Review + My Funny for the Week

I have done this type of review before but I changed a little bit about it this time.   I put the kids into groups and they have to compete to be the first group to get all of the problems checked off.  This time, however, I required all of the students to have all of the problems checked off instead of just one page for each group, and then I also added a key step that I loved.  Every time someone brought a page up to me, I would ask pick random problems that they had to explain to me.  Working in groups got them talking, which I loved, but then they also had to hold up their own end of things by proving they knew their stuff.  If they didn’t know it, I sent them back to their groups to figure it out then they had to come back to me and explain the problem.  Some kids came up to me multiple times before I would approve their problem.  But they learned it in the end!

My funny for the day/week:  A student came up to me and I asked him how he got the answer to the problem and he responded, “that’s what my calculator said.”  So I stopped the whole class and I told them that calculators do not tell us answers.  They don’t say, “Hey Steve, the answer is 45.” You put things in your calculator and it does those things.  I want to know those things you told your calculator to do.  Then I sent them back to work.  About 30 seconds later, a student came up to me and handed me his calculator.  His graphing calculator.  And on it, he had typed, “Name the answer is 45.”  🙂  I guess he showed me!  And that is why I love teaching middle school.

Floor Plan

This past week, we have been working on a version of Sarah’s Apartment Remodel Project.  We did not do all of her amazing flooring stuff, we just stuck to finding the basic area and perimeter of rooms.  I did change some things a bit.

Sarah posted a picture of the floor plan she used, but she said she didn’t have the file anymore.  I ended up creating my own that is pretty much the same exact thing as hers without the detail.  I also changed some of the measurements.


Here is the space I gave them to work in.

Sarah had them draw all of the rooms on graph paper, then use that paper to find the area.  I started off with this as my plan, but then decided that was not necessary since they had the measurements.  Big mistake.  While I think this activity had the potential to be great, the amount of rooms that I gave them (since I also added outside stuff), along with no graph paper was way overwhelming and too much.  I will for sure do this again, I think it was a great way to have them figure out missing measurements and find the area of irregular figures.  But I for sure will have them do it on graph paper!  This will make the concept of area so much easier to understand and help them to visualize the area much better.