Monday, April 30, 2012

FIle Cabinet

By far, File Cabinet has got to be my favorite 3 Act lesson to date!

I am proud of my newfound passion for 3 Act lessons and the final product for my File Cabinet lesson. However, I am even more proud of:
  • My students for their interest, critical thinking, and assistance with Post-Its and filming
  • My family, friends, and colleagues who took an interest in the project/lesson
  • Fawn Nguyen for using the lesson, providing feedback, and sharing her dynamic results, classroom and students with us
  • Dan Meyer for calling me 'Crazy Bananas.' I deserve it. I own it proudly!

Here's the story:
In previous years, a Mr. Stadel Geometry class sounded something like this during the surface area unit, "If we covered this object in wrapping paper, we'd need to figure out the total surface area of the solid so we know how much paper to use. Let's use this formula. Blah, blah, blah!"

Cue the sigh, the yawn, the head tilting back, and eyes closing. The class would use a bland formula to trudge through a static textbook question so that they could arrive at some theoretical answer that meant absolutely nothing to everyone, including me at times.

Not this year... Dan Meyer's 3 Act lesson format is here to breathe life into applied math. I was staring at this file cabinet at the back of my room, saw a stack of Post-Its on my desk and thought, how many Post-Its would it take to cover this rectangular son-of-a-prism... and so it began.
Forget wrapping paper, Post-its FTW! 
I filmed File Cabinet - Act 1 (watch video here before Act 3) last Monday, posted it to and every day I chipped away at sticking Post-Its for about 40-60 minutes after school. Yes, it was a lot of work, but totally worth it! This math lesson/project instantly became a huge conversation piece in my classroom. Students came in completely intrigued by what was going on in the back of my room. They stared at it. They did weird finger, arm, and eyeball measurements. They walked around it numerous times before I finally said, "Make an estimate. It's free! Write it on the board." My whiteboard at the front of the class had about 30 kids' names on it with their estimates. It was so invigorating to hear them discuss or argue their estimate. One student made an estimate within 1 Post-It of the actual result.
Going beyond estimates, students wanted to help and the only thing I felt comfortable having them do was write numbers on the Post-Its and tape down Post-Its that were sticking out.  My students were a HUGE HELP! Thanks guys! Knowing I will post my math videos online, I will not include my students in my videos for what I think are obvious reasons.

The math lesson went extremely well. My students calculated the theoretical answer for homework after we watched Act 1, made estimates, and discussed the necessary information in order to answer the question, "How many Post-Its will cover the file cabinet?" The next day we discussed the differnt ways my students calculated. NONE of them used any formula from the textbook. I love it! Students either:

  1. Found the total amount of Post-Its on each face and found the total sum or 
  2. Found the sum of the areas of each face and divided it by 9 square inches.

I was impressed by their ingenuity, resourcefulness, and independent thinking process. Bottom line: I didn't help. I didn't force-feed them a formula that means nothing to them. Instead, I allowed them to derive the answer. Little voice in my head says, "Derive the answer or formula on your own!" We also discussed potential problems with the theoretical answer as they walked around the cabinet. Check out Act 3 to get a 'handle' on the potential problem. Here's a hint:
Get a handle on the potential problem.

I asked my new online math teacher friend Fawn Nguyen if she had done surface area with her Geometry kiddos and I was glad to share File Cabinet - Act 1 with her. Check out Fawn Nguyen's blog here for an exciting read about how her kids responded, their inquisitiveness, ingenuity, and the depth in which Fawn took the lesson. One of my favorite parts was seeing the kids come up to her board and measuring the video display in order to make estimates. They also estimated my height while they were at it... classic! I was flattered and happy that the lesson sparked such a great interest with her and her students. They were so kind to send me a 'thank you' picture. I love it! I shared the story with my class.

Another new online math teacher friend Nathan Kraft simply said, "I'm using this."
I'm glad! I hope you do too! and send me some feedback.

I also sent out the video link to family and friends and got a healthy amount of intriguing responses. My brother, who has great insight regarding the furniture business, was able to eyeball two-thirds of the file cabinet dimensions and had a blast calculating the number of Post-Its. It was fun to go back and forth with him about this. When asking friends what their first question was after watching Act 1, one family friend shared a perspective I wouldn't have thought of in a milion years. Her husband underwent chemotherapy years back and they used Post-Its to count down the days left. They had a pack of Post-Its in the car and counted down each of the 33 days of radiation treatment. This was an extremely touching email as I learned a life-impacting fact, all because of a math video about Post-Its.

As I was busy sticking Post-Its on the cabinet all week, staging the next camera angle, stop motion setup, or editing the video, I was honored to see Dan Meyer's blog post of his weekly Five Favorites - 101Questions [4/28/12]. Yes, Dan is correct that I'm 'Crazy bananas.' I am proud of that title and fully embrace it. I also got this tweet from him:

I don't think I'll be using a Post-It for awhile... and every time I use a Post-It I will think of this math lesson. Enjoy File Cabinet - Act 3.

File Cabinet - Act 3 from Mr.Stadel on Vimeo.

If you'd like the information for Act 2, email me or post a comment. I'm working on making Act 2 files more accessible or downloadable. Until then, drop me a line!
[UPDATE] Check my 3 Act catalog for Act 2 information and more!


Sunday, April 22, 2012

2012 Math Olympics

Last week was the first week back from Spring Break. Over the break, I took the feedback from the Survey your Students (earlier post) I gave and wanted to finish the school year in a different manner. I chose a class theme (which I'm not sure I've done before) to be the 2012 Math Olympics. I needed a fun way to spend the last 5 academic weeks with my 8th graders. I went to Target and the Dollar Store and found a few goldmine items for weekly events and "Gold medal" winners.

Last week's event, Jai Alai 
I wanted to both professionally and personally challenge myself to make improvements in the following areas:

Group & Discussion Based Learning:
I had to change the desk arrangement in my classroom. As you can see from the picture above, students are facing each other now instead of the interactive board. I did minimal direct instruction this week.
It was fantastic!
I wanted the groups to figure out and discuss examples before telling them how to answer, solve, or approach the examples. Kids are smart!
The students were put into heterogenous groups, having a range of mathamatical abilities. On Monday, they met their teammates, nominated a team captain, and picked a country from the list of participating countries in the 2012 Summer games. USA was not an option!
It took a couple of days for the students to warm-up to the discussion based learning, but by Thursday, they had made great strides (remember to praise them on Monday for this!)

Different Classroom Management Skills:
We take our 8th graders to Washington D.C. at the end of May. Therefore, the students have one giant foot out the door by this time of year. This past week, I saw a greater level of engagement and less need to remind students about learning. I have found myself in previous years sternly reminding them,
"It's imperative that you guys learn this if you're interested in getting into Geometry as a freshman."

The only thing I had to remind my students of this week was for their captain to report their good-will points to me before leaving. Good-will points are earned for displays of good sportsmanship in class by staying on task, helping another group, or scoring a point in Jai Alai. I kept track of good-will points on these cheap chalkboards I found at Target:

To earn Good-will points (and to avoid foul play) in Jai Alai, one team had to successfully pass the ball to another team so both teams received points. It was awesome to see them cheer each other on instead of making fun.

I found a highly successful warm-up activity this year that was based on assessing individual skills, called my favorite yes/no (video found here).
However, with the students in groups (countries), I transitioned my two-minute warm-up into a group task. I not only had great discussions going on, but kids were submitting their cards cheering for their country, writing...
"Go Fiji! Germany rocks! Go Tunisia!"
I loved that they took ownership of both their learning and their adopted country for the Math Olympics! (again, remember to praise them for this on Monday!)

Student Estimation and Prediction:
The daily two-minute warm-up also includes a question requiring estimation to answer it. Past examples include:
What year was the first cell phone call made?
How many In-n-Out Burgers are in California?
How many miles is the California coastline?
How many miles is it around the earth's equator?
Discussion following these questions has been quite valuable. They find the validity in guessing too low and too high and enjoy sharing the actual answers with family or friends throughout the day. I assigned homework on Monday for them to look up two fun facts about their country. I will use the facts they submitted throughout the next 4 weeks. I believe this will pay dividends... we'll see.

Incentive Based Learning:
I tread lightly in this arena. I have never been a big fan of handing out candy or giving small trophy awards for something I believe learning is, intrinsic. However, the second you toss candy in front of a middle schooler, it feels like the equivalent of feeding the dolphins at Sea World after performing a trick. My school banned the distribution of candy and I'm totally good with it. Let's be realistic though, every once in awhile, kids enjoy some type of reward, even if it's silly. They are kids after all.
On Monday, I will be awarding my Gold medal winners with glow bracelets I found at the dollar store. In order to win glow bracelets for your country, your group must have the highest exam average from the previous week. We learned parabolas this week, and I've seen some of the best understanding ever, which translated to great scores as well!

Lastly, our event for next week is Archery. I have a student-made target at the back of my room. After successfully answering questions, students will aim a giant foam rocket at the target to earn good-will points for their country next week. London 2012!!!


Saturday, April 14, 2012

Rolling Tires

It started a little over a month ago when I had to get my car tires aligned. As my car was being worked on, I killed 30 minutes worth of time walking around the industrial park with my son and came across this goldmine:
a dumpster full of used and abandoned tires 

Mentally, I started mapping out some math application(s) for the tires and figured Spring Break would be a prime opportunity to record a 3Act lesson for my geometry class. I'm proudly addicted to Dan Meyer's 3 Act lesson format. I can only hope I'm doing it justice. After trial and error, self reflection, and feedback from both students and online colleagues I'm starting to see the strength in 3 Act lessons, if done correctly. It requires planning, objectives, patience, and of course... time.

Have an objective, a lesson in mind, a real-world example, (maybe use a word problem from a textbook to jumpstart your direction), start training your eye to always look for lessons you can bring to your students...

Make sure it's measurable: Yes, it's fun to throw a picture at students and ask them, "What's the first question that comes to mind?" Both you and your students might agree on the same perplexing question, but if there isn't measurable data or a realistic solution, your media might simply reduce to a fun picture you both were perplexed by, predicted an answer to, and discussed a path to the solution. That fact alone might be valuable enough without the actual construction and implementation of a class activity/lesson.
This Lego pic I snapped is a great example of something difficult to measure: it might open up a discussion, students might make a prediction, but measuring it would be very difficult because of the numerous variables. However, something like my JUMBO and mini stop sign staging is very measurable and a lesson can be constructed beyond the discussion and prediction arena. Therefore, with Rolling Tires, I made sure everything was measurable before pressing record.

Act 1: A video of me rolling a tire (a friend was disappointed it wasn't a supermodel in a bikini). What's the first question that comes to mind? Hitting the initial mark during Act 1 is imperative to the overall success of the lesson.

Act 2: A keynote and/or video to reveal information my students might find necessary to solve the question agreed upon.

Act 3: The video payoff to see how the calculated (theoretical) answers compare to the actual (practical) results.

Please feel free to download and use all three videos. Give me some feedback. Ask me some questions. The necessary information is included in Act 2. I thought, great an actual way to apply circumference. I will try to post any handouts or graphic organizers used. Lastly, if time permits I might make a sequel to include a couple different scenarios.

Possible Sequel: I heard a long time ago that some taxi drivers put smaller wheels on their cabs so the car tires would produce more revolutions, yielding a higher cab fare. Check the tires of that cab before you get in it.


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Survey your students

Spring Break Questionnaire 2012:

I believe in the importance of feedback, whether it's:
  1. Customer feedback regarding a product
  2. Feedback about a restaurant, their food, service, cleanliness, etc.
  3. Feedback from colleagues, administrators, students in your class or 
  4. The feedback Jimi Hendrix produced wailing on guitar (that's definitely a topic for another day).
I gave my students this questionnaire last week, right before we went to Spring Break:

The feedback I received from my students is invaluable. My favorites were:

  1. A student that responded to question 5 and a difficult concept: "I need more space, there were too many."
  2. A high percentage of students used the same verbiage for question 6 regarding the warm-up: "It helps get my brain ready for math and I like the second question because it's fun."

So here's the how, why, and when I do questionnaires.

Keep it simple. Type up a one page questionnaire your students can finish in about 5-8 minutes. Give it to them on the first day of school or at the end of a short test or quiz. Give your students the premise, don't just throw it at them. Tell them their feedback is important to you (because it is). Explain that their honesty and constructive feedback helps you (the teacher) help them (the students). Again, tell them again that their input is important to you (because it is).

I don't feel much explanation is necessary here as we could come up with a million reasons, but hopefully the reasons are instinctive, logical, genuine, and simple.

Questionnaires allow student's to take the initial step in the ownership of their learning. They see that you are open and willing to make their learning experience rich, rewarding, and reflective of their interests.  They see that you care. Students can possibly gain a better sense of appreciation for your hard work, but this shouldn't be your main objective. If they see you working hard to meet their expectations, then maybe it will rub off on their work habits in your class and pay dividends towards your expectations of them.

The students (your customer) can give you a perspective that you might miss. They might remember something they enjoy in another teacher's class and want to share it with you. Don't take it as a slight. Take it as a Professional Development opportunity. I'm not saying the students dictate the curriculum, daily agenda, or always know best about their learning behaviors, but their input and perspective keeps you connected and in tune to what they are thinking. Simply put, how does your customer feel about the product you are selling? What can you do to enhance your product and better appeal to your customer base?

This a great opportunity to teach your students that constructive feedback is a life skill that benefits from some etiquette. The questionnaire is not a 'comments' section they can anonymously fill out online, bashing the subject or person while they sit in front of a computer screen. Students are given the opportunity to provide words, explanations, and reasons that are constructive, diplomatic, and appropriate. It's a great opportunity for a teacher to teach a life skill... embrace it.

Don't wait until the end of the school year. IT'S TOO LATE. I always found the rating forms at the end of a college course or graduate class pointless. Why ask me after the fact, especially if the instructor was terrible? How do my classmates and I benefit from taking the survey at the end? How come we didn't benefit from a survey given to this instructor's last class? I digress... However, it's important to me that I survey my students frequently. So when do I poll them for their feedback?


Don't abuse questionnaires. Students will see them more as a task instead of an opportunity to provide meaningful feedback. Don't overuse: 4 times max.
Beginning of the year
It allows you an opportunity to find out information, fun facts, learning styles, and their attitude towards your subject area. What a great way to immediately make connections with your students. Use questions that encourage detailed answers. Avoid 'yes' or 'no' questions. Hey, you're gonna spend the next 180 school days together, don't you want to make a connection with your students immediately that will catapult you together into the subject area you teach? Lastly, ask them what is something they would like to know about you...

Before Winter Break
By this time you have been using various techniques, strategies, learning activities, and have gotten to know the make up of your classes. The newness of the school year has definitely worn off and it's time you get some feedback from your students. Use Winter Break to evaluate their responses and give yourself some New Year's resolutions and an action plan upon your return in January. Your response is pivotal. Return in January reminding them what they did, some common threads, and your action plan. It's imperative you follow through with your plan, or you subject yourself to losing your customers...

Before Spring Break
Spring cleaning, right? It might be time for you to utilize some fresh ideas/activities or maybe trash some that are just ineffective. Maybe there's some concepts you need to reteach before those lovely standardized tests arrive. Use Spring Break to prepare some improved ways of reaching your kids. They're older now. They've seen your best and your worst. Give them something fresh upon their return. Maybe this is where you bring out some 'secret weapons' or some awesome activities you found from a colleague on Twitter,, Teaching Channel, a blog, etc. Do something so both you and your students have something to look forward to as you close the school year. Trust me, by this time, your students will feel comfortable enough to tell you what they like/dislike, and how effective/ineffective activities have been in your class. Plus, if you followed through on your January action plan, they trust you will respond equivalently. 

At the end of the year
This isn't one where you just do it as a formality. You have spent 180 days with your students and hopefully have left a positive impact on their life by now. Hopefully they returned the favor. If you're always looking to improve and be a better teacher, this is your opportunity to take the good with the bad so you can better prepare for next year. I know by this time you are looking forward to summer and the last thing you want to do is think about next year, but it will be here before you know it and guess what? Your current students will help you prepare to have an even better and stronger year next year. Yes, your students might be brutally honest on the final questionnaire because they may never see you again, but take off the rose-colored glasses. It might hurt at first, but it can only make you stronger (sticks and stones..., right?). Take the summer to find ways to better connect with that 'one' student who will be in your class again next year. Decompress over the summer, but keep in mind that your former students have given you a valuable gift. They're feedback, their insight and their words are teaching you now. They have left you with a lesson. Think about it, we expect our students to learn from their mistakes, to take chances, be lifelong learners, and always strive to do their best. Expect that of yourself too. Take their feedback and give back. 

Good luck,

Monday, April 9, 2012

Jumbo and mini STOP signs

Friday was the beginning of my spring break!!!
I took my new tripod, measuring tape, and camera assistant (my 22-month old son) with me to stage a few pictures.
Objective: shoot different sized STOP signs found on the road to his Gymboree classes.

*can be found at

I've been itching to do this math shoot for weeks, but have been busy with school and other miscellaneous things. Ironically, I found these STOP signs to serve two purposes:
  1. I'll be exploring the area of regular polygons with my geometry class when we return from spring break; exploring the apothem, radius, and eventually using these properties for surface area and volume of solids. 
  2. The signs are telling me to STOP, collaborate and listen (sorry, Vanilla Ice). Seriously, I need to:
  • STOP and rethink a few key components to a successful learning environment for my math students. 
  • Collaborate with my teaching counterparts, online and off, and 
  • Listen to the needs of my students, common core standards, technology, the future, and...
I'm working on a vision I had last week regarding the reconstruction of my classroom, how students will come to my class to learn, and the overall learning experience(hint). Stay tuned!