Saturday, December 29, 2012

Quesadilla - Part 1

My son and I look forward to Saturday mornings because Dad typically makes breakfast. Let me rephrase that, I really look forward to Saturday mornings because I get to make breakfast for the olive-gobbler and myself. It's the highlight of my whole weekend sometimes. I usually go with one of my two staples, pancakes or an egg and cheese quesadilla. Today, we went with the egg and cheese quesadilla. It's easy to make and we enjoy it together. Sometimes we throw in some bacon (the most delicious thing on earth). We also love to dip our quesadilla in Chik-Fil-A sauce.

Since he's only two-and-a-half, he can't man up to an entire quesadilla yet. Likewise, I should probably watch my cholesterol and avoid routinely eating 3 eggs and cheese every Saturday. It's a delicious compromise. That said, as he gets older he eats more and in turn my cholesterol intake is slightly less, I think.

I came up with a 3 Act idea for our quesadilla breakfasts. You'll notice I don't use halves, fourths, and other math related vocabulary on purpose. It gives you a chance to use that vocabulary with your students. Text included below.

"On the weekends, my son and I look forward to making an egg and cheese quesadilla for breakfast. We scramble the eggs, add the cheese, grill up the tortillas, and when the quesadilla is ready, I cut it into sections so we can share. When he was two years old, he’d only eat one of the sections. Now that he’s a little bit older, he’ll eat more than one, but won’t entirely eat two.  So I need to rethink this."

Quesadilla - Part 2
I'm working on another idea related to this whole circle, fraction idea. Stay tuned.

*Fawn, you're temporarily sworn to secrecy while I line things up.


P.S. How many times did I use the word "whole"?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Small, medium, or large

My wife, son and I went on a walk this morning. Destination: Bruegger's Bagels. There's a park between our house and the bagels. We frequently use this park since it has a play structure, monkey bars, slides, and swings (one of our favorites). Our two-and-a-half year old son (the olive-gobbler) loves to request that Dad (me) use the swing adjacent the swing he's on. Still a kid at heart, I frequently will jump off the swing in midair and my son has come to expect it. Of course, he requests, "Dad'll do a big big jump!" There were other kids around and I didn't want to be a horrible example and/or jump off and hurt one of them. As I explained this to him, he responds, "Dad'll do a medium jump."

I jump off the swing without hurting anyone, myself included. I turn to my wife and say, "I'm going to test something out when we get bagels." We walk over to the bagel establishment, place our order, and I grab a couple of straws. Enter this picture:
I took the straw wrapper and ripped it into three different sizes and ask him to identify the large one. He puts his finger on the piece on the right. I then ask him, "Which one is the medium one?" He places his finger on the piece in the middle. Lastly, I ask, "Which one is the small one?" and he places his finger on the left. Let's be clear here. I am not claiming my son is a genius or that my next magic trick is that he knows his multiplication facts. I was simply assessing if he really understood the difference between small, medium, and large. He does. I don't have another two-and-a-half year old kid to compare him to so I'm not sure if this is fair. What I do know is that he's making a one-to-one association and comparing sizes. I find this fascinating. As a family, we've been using the Your Baby Can Read series and have found it wonderful. I highly recommend it. The following is in one of his books.
Find the biggest comb.
This series has many wonderful ways of communicating language with children. My wife, an elementary teacher, would probably do a better job writing this post as she would be able to explain it all better than me. Knowing that he has a pretty good understanding comparing, let's see if he can order them if I mix them up a little.
Me: Okay, let's order them from least to greatest.
He looks at me blankly as he chews on his bagel. I didn't expect him to understand what I had just said. That's okay. I'm still going to use this language. I follow it up with this.
Me: Let's put them in order starting with the smallest.
Son: Hmph.
Me: Where is the small piece?
He points to the small piece.
Me: Okay, let's put that first (as I place it on is left). Where is the medium?
He points to the medium size piece.
Me: Let's put that next to the small piece.
Son: Hmph.
Me: Here, let's move it next to the small piece. What piece is left?
Son: The large! (saying it like he's just won the lottery).
Again, I'm not claiming my son is the next Einstein. I need to keep him honest and humble at the same time so here's how I proceed.  I take the largest straw wrapper and rip off a tiny piece so that it's smaller than what we previously agreed was the "small one". I temporarily hide the piece previously known as the "large one".
Me: Now which piece is the small?
He points to the new tiny piece.
Me: and the medium?
Son: This one (pointing to the piece formally known as 'small')
Me: and the large?
Son: This one (pointing to the piece formally known as 'medium')
I hope you're following me. If not, here's a picture to compare to the first one.
Previous small, medium, & large
New small, medium, & large
Let's see what this kid is made of. I reveal the piece I ripped the tiny piece from, formally known as "large one."
Me: What size is this?
Son: Hmph.
Me: This is the small, medium, and large (as I point at the new small, medium, and large) so what size is this piece (pointing at the piece formally known as "large")?
Son: Hmph.
I give him a few seconds to contemplate, mull it over, and possibly share his own name. Nope, nothing. He's perplexed. He's staring at it. He wants to call it something. He wants to have a name for it and compare it to the other three, but is looking for some direction here. I can see he's just about to take another bite of his bagel and be done with his dad's straw wrapper experiment. I jump in and say, "It's EXTRA large!" If this conversation was happening six months from now, I'd ask if the newly named piece would be "extra large" or stay known as "large." Likewise, would the tiny piece now known as "small" be correct or be known as the "extra small" piece? You decide.
Do you have these conversations with your students? If I was having it with my students, I'd hold out longer and force them to come up with a way to classify all four pieces using their own language. The teacher in me does not take a vacation nor do I take time off during the weekends. I love these conversations and I am now seeing them naturally occurring with my son. I cherish these opportunities and love seeing how his brain is working.

Lastly, a wonderful 3 Act opportunity made an appearance at the end of our bagel extravaganza today. I'll be posting it on Dan Meyer's so let me know the first question that comes to mind right here. It might be winter, but math is not in hibernation. It's still out there in the wild. Be ready to capture it any chance you get.

Small, medium, or large,

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Bouncy Balls

Today was a good day. Yesterday wasn't and I'll leave it at that (strictly speaking of school). One of those days where I couldn't find a wall fast enough in order to bang my head against it not once, but multiple times. It's a great thing that I get to end my days with my wife and son. My students are having a blast finding Felipe, our classroom Elf on the Shelf, each day. With a waterfall schedule, my last class of the day gets to hide him for the next day. It's a fun little activity for the kids to burn some energy off until the holidays. We did our seasonal estimate today and I started my Algebra classes with this video:

Yes, this video is cruel. Not necessarily perplexing, but enough to hopefully generate some curiosity? So, which ball will bounce higher? Give me a thumbs up if you think the 2012 Super Ball will bounce higher. Give me a thumbs down if you think the 1976 Super Ball will bounce higher. Give me a thumbs middle if you think they will bounce the same. In all three classes, there wasn't a strong majority, but if I had to estimate I think most students voted that 2012 will bounce higher. And... I don't tell them, show them, or even hint to them. I know, cruel. Enter this picture:

This lesson snuck up on me as I was collecting balls. I forgot to get the following balls: ping pong ball, racquetball, tennis ball, and one of those pink spongy balls. Okay, let's get this out of our system; middle schoolers and the word, "balls." So here we go, "balls, balls, balls, balls, balls, balls, balls, balls."

"Now, look at the balls and quietly, to yourself, make a guess. Guess which ball will be the best. In other words, which will bounce the highest? Now, guess which will be the worst? Don't say anything. Write that in the top corner of the handout you are about to receive. Don't share it with anyone." Students were looking at the screen, scoping out the different sizes, shapes, and textures of each ball. I saw some students writing the golf ball as the worst and the lacrosse ball as the best. Some were putting the Super Balls as the best. "Now, share your guesses with your group. Does anyone want more information about these balls besides just a picture." Trust me, it was very difficult not to work "balls" into the conversation as much as possible. Seriously, it can be fun to see them squirm, grin or laugh at times like these. I refrained from making comments like, "Don't worry guys, you'll get your hands on these balls soon enough." or "We're not playing with the balls people. Simply dropping them and seeing how high they bounce." C'mon people, "Make sure you handle the balls with care." You get the point.

I'm a slow learner. You've probably heard me say this before. This might be one of the best parts of my day. When introducing projects this year, I've made the mistake of displaying the handout on the screen first, having students read parts out loud, and throw in some pointers before they get their supplies. You can predict what happens next. Students get their supplies and start exploring the project in the wrong way or ask me questions to parts I already reviewed. What's the typical response? "Read the handout again." or "I already went over that. Ask a classmate." And you know with each student that you see not following directions or that comes up to you and asks what to do next simply gets more irritating with every time. For example, when we stole from Fawn Nguyen's Barbie Bungee, I'd see students simply letting Barbie hang freely from the top of their meter stick and measure that distance with every rubber band they added. They weren't dropping Barbie and measuring the lowest point she extended to. So it dawned on me, once again because I'm slow. "Everybody, you are to read the entire handout with your group first. When you've done that, come up to me and explain what you are doing. If you accurately tell me in your own words the objective and directions of the project, you may grab a ball and start collecting data. If you can't, I send you back to read it again." Money! It worked like a charm. Students knew what they were doing. They knew the correct steps. They knew what increments and how many drops per ball. It was great. I still have to do the Barbie Bungee project with my Algebra Honors class and will see how well they do with reading the directions.

Here's what students did today. Students were to use one ball at a time to drop the ball from 10 cm to 1 meter using 10 cm increments and at least three drops from each increment. Once they completed that, they were to exchange their ball for another ball and do this for a total of three balls. Hint: no one was allowed to use the 1976 Super Ball until they collected data for two balls first. Plus, I don't let the 1976 Super Ball out of my site. I've had that since I was a kid and do you know what those guys go for on eBay? They kept track of the rebound heights and were to make observations. Were there any constant changes? If not, was there a close average change? Our goal is to predict the rebound height of a drop from 3 meters and from our balcony of 5.7 meters.

At least I didn't play this video to intro the lesson.


Monday, December 10, 2012

We don't need no stinkin' homework!

What are our students saying when they don't do practice exercises outside of school? This isn't a revolutionary thought. I'm just a slow learner. Last week I finally had enough of seeing too many empty desks when they're supposed to get out their Home Jams (homework) after our daily warm-up. I assign about 3-4 questions nightly Monday through Thursday. They're not worth any points because of the Standards Based Grading model I've adopted this year. I use Dropbox to sync all my home jams so students have access at home and I don't need to make photocopies or rely on students using a workbook or textbook. I don't collect them. I don't keep track of complete or incomplete home jams. Furthermore, chances are pretty good I will spend the first 5-8 minutes of class having students review the previous night's home jams as a group on their giant whiteboards. My school is in an affluent area and every family has internet access so why do I still see a strong majority of empty desks? I'm not the only one who is absorbing this pain and bafflement. Chris Robinson, Hedge, and Fawn Nguyen (my trusty cohorts) jumped in on this conversation/quest.

Let's find some scapegoats: laziness, apathy, age, adolescence, immaturity, puberty, hormones, SBG, points (or lack thereof), Gangnam style, etc.
Are these really worth my blame and energy? Should I be looking to point fingers, because I'll run out of fingers if that's the attitude I take. There seems to be a more productive use of my time and energy. I like Chris' idea of designing meaningful tasks for students outside of class, but right now I battle the clock with trying to design meaningful tasks for students inside of class. Therefore, should I be associating my home jams with incentives? Let's ask our kids what they think first before we rack our brains out. Here are the two questions we asked our kids today:
1. Briefly explain what reasons cause you to regularly complete or regularly NOT complete the homework assignments.
2.What incentives would motivate you to complete more homework assignments?
The results.

Reasons for NOT doing home jams:
I forget: 17
Online hassle: 12
Not worth points: 10
I don't need the practice: 1
I have other homework: 9

Reasons for doing home jams:
Master/practice skills: 18
I don't understand: 3
Prepare for assessments: 10
My parent makes me: 3

I didn't enjoy homework as a student and still don't (BTSA). I don't think students should be doing hours of homework. When my children get older, I hope they don't have hours of homework because I believe it would rob them from family time or time simply being a kid.

As for incentives, students suggested the following:
Make them worth points [that's not happening].
Make them fun [curious what that means].
Give candy [yup, all I need to do is encourage tooth decay, obesity, or diabetes].
Extra Credit [really? Again, that's not happening].
Put them on paper [I'm listening].
Bring in food [that co$ts money, y'know].
Play music [yes, I considered that and I like].
Redeem points for class prizes [who's paying for the prizes?].
Work it into Math B-ball [I considered that too and I like].

So now what? Enter my thought process and your input here. I'm open to the incentive idea. Could there be something for the group (since my students sit in groups) who completes their home jams all week? Their group DJ's music. They get comfy chairs to sit in during class. They get extra points when we play Math B-ball. They wash my car. Oh wait, that last one seems out of place. I'm going to sleep on this.

My parting thoughts go like this. It eats at me that learning just isn't more intrinsic, valued, and supported at home as much as I'd like it to be. Could that be another job for some caped homework crusader we all dream about? Incentives are cool, but is that just trickery? Am I tricking kids into practicing math? Once again, I think I'm asking more questions than necessarily providing answers. I'm not going to rack my brain out here. I'm not looking for a permanent and magical solution. It would be great to see students participate more and value their learning by practicing math. Is this asking too much of my 8th graders?


Saturday, December 8, 2012

Zero Olives

My two-and-a-half year old son loves black olives just as much as I do. Tonight at dinner, my wife placed two olives on our son's napkin. Surprisingly, the olives remained untouched for a few minutes. He made some descriptive comments like, "The rice is delicious. The egg is delicious. The milk is delicious." You can tell what vocabulary we use around him, right? Quite the eclectic dinner, I know. Unbeknownst to me as I was taking a bite, he grabbed an olive with his hand so he could put it on his finger to eat and says, "There's one olive left, Dad!" Here's how the rest of this played out:
Me: "Yes, after you eat the one on your finger."
(we've had this conversation before)
He quickly shoves the finger-olive into his mouth.
Not wasting anytime, the olive-gobbler grabs the lonesome olive on the napkin and exclaims, "Now there's zero olives!"


This made my heart skip a beat. We haven't talked about zero for a couple weeks now. In previous olive consumptions, I've questioned my son how many are left after he devours his portion. He would sit there quietly and perplexed or would usually reply with a little, "hmph?" After giving him some time to think and reply, I would jump in and offer him a description simply labeled "zero." It kills me that a couple of his toys have the numbers one through nine, but no zero. For example, check out his toy phone. Where's the zero people??!! Seriously?

I'm a huge fan of using zero in math as much as humanly possible. To see it missing from toys means it could be missing from my son's vocabulary unless I work it in. He has placemats with letters, shapes, and numbers. Guess what number is missing. Zero plays a key role in number sense and math. My students know one of our class mantras is, "We love zero!" Zero is a wonderful number.

Our dinner conversation didn't end there. Let's see if this olive-gobbler has some depth. I held up two fingers and asked, "How many fingers do you see?"
Olive-gobbler: Two
(I take down one finger)
Me: How many fingers do you see?
Olive-gobbler: One
(I take down the last finger)
Me: How many fingers do you see?
Olive-gobbler just sits there......... "hmph"
He holds up his hand with all fingers extended and says, "Five!" (Wise-guy!)

I start over by holding up two fingers and repeat my questioning. Same exact response from the olive-gobbler. So it didn't work with the fingers. Later on during our dinner I put one of my olives on his napkin. He grabbed it.
Olive-gobbler: Zero olives left!
Me: You're right.
I put our workout on zero to rest for the night. We're getting there.

I cherish this post because it involves my son, olives, zero, and number sense. This is my first time blogging about my number sense experiences with my son, inspired by Christopher Danielson and the many number sense conversations he has with his children. Thanks man!

Olive-gobbler's dad,

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Instructional tool: student cell phones

Tomorrow, I'll embark on the crusade of letting my students use their cell phones in class as an instructional tool. I will both email and send home the following letter/policy with students for parent approval. Understandably, my school has many hoops regarding things of the sort. Currently, cell phones are not allowed to be used during school hours anywhere on campus. Students may only use their phones before and after school. This is a K-8 school. I teach 8th grade. Over 95% of my students own phones and it kills me to see them carry around these expensive devices all day and not be allowed to use them as an instructional tool. You can see from the letter that the primary use of the phone will be for capturing student work. Tomorrow, I'll be laying down the law.

In case you missed it, here's the letter/policy again. Hopefully, what I call Phase 1, will be one of many phases for cell phone use in my class. Phase 1 has two objectives.

Objective 1: Capture student whiteboard work
My students do a crazy amount of work each day on their giant whiteboards. How lame is it that we have to erase it and never see it again. Even a black hole will never have the opportunity to consume it. It's gone. I've learned not to waste time having students transfer their work to their notebooks. BIG waste of time. We could use that time for learning, discussions, group work, etc. That said, I need students to capture what they're doing, because some of it is absolutely amazing. Even mistakes can be useful. For example, check out the student work done on these 3 Act lessons:

and Dan Meyer's Taco cart.
Seriously, I was lucky enough to capture it. So there you have it, I intend to support my students in capturing their work while at the same time assist them in using their devices responsibly. It's definitely going to be a change of thought for students to think of their phone as an instructional tool. That's why I'm easing into it with this simple task. We frequently do "gallery walks" in my class where students circulate the room and check out other student work. This will present another opportunity for students to capture whiteboard work. I'm thinking of some class 'lingo' and/or routines that will set everyone up for success. Make your math look good, now say, "CHEESE!" If you have any routines or tips to share, please let me know. When I assess this after a week or two, I'll let you all know what has been working and what has failed.

Objective 2: Send students and parents notifications
There is a great FREE service that my good buddy @mrkubasek sent me in this article. I will be using to send both students and parents notifications about class activities: Home Jams (my homework), quizzes, due dates, links, etc. I can send them notifications from a phone, computer, or tablet and they won't see my phone number. Likewise, I don't see their information. Furthermore, they can't send me anything back... mwoohahaha. I mean, how fantastic is that? They can email me if they have a question. I love the idea, because I won't be strapped to my phone answering questions related to the notification I just sent out. More importantly, my forgetful 8th graders will receive the ever-so-loving nudge or reminder about something vital to their success in math.

It doesn't stop here. Realistically, I can't pull off numerous uses for their cell phones a third of the way into the school year. Therefore, I will chip away at this. First and foremost, I plan to nurture responsible and mature digital citizens in my classroom. I hope that this works and I don't ruin it for other teachers at my school to test out. Speaking of which, I have to email them and keep them in the loop here. I hope I can work out any bugs and prevent any huge mishaps. I've seen and heard some of our student population abuse technology and that saddens me. Literally, less than a mile down the road are a couple of schools where students lack technology and/or personal devices. I'm fortunate to be in a place where this is possible and hope to learn with my students. Here are a few things to leave you with.

Bryan Meyer is on to something because I eventually want to have students create some type of digital folder, file, journal, blog, etc. I'd love for them to keep track of their work and either post it or submit it to me.

Dan Bowdin is doing some really amazing and inspring things in his class. Bounce around his website  for about ten minutes and you'll run into some fresh and inspiring ideas. I'd love to pursue the use of QR codes in class one day.