Category Archives: 180 Blog Algebra 1

4-Digit in Algebra 1

Day 3, Fri Aug 15, 2014

The Brain Surgeon: My third Growth Mindset Vehicle (after the Drumroll and the Wrinkle Sprinkle) is the Brain Surgeon. I purchased a soft foam model brain (it comes in two hemispheres). Each day, I give it to the next student in line and that student is the Brain Surgeon for the day. The Brain Surgeon has two Primary responsibilities: To lead both the Drumroll and the Wrinkle Sprinkle. The two secondary duties are to make sure that materials (portfolios, whiteboards, chromebooks, graphing calculators etc) get disseminated and collected properly.

Our First Brain Surgeon:(Jasmin)

Target: We will use Order of Operations and Quantitative Reasoning to write expressions for a given value.

SMP #2, Reasoning Quantitatively: I intend to use my MPJ Practice Posters to introduce each of the 8 practices within the first few weeks of school. I’m not obliged to go in numerical order; rather I choose the practice that best suits the activity for the day. So today, I gave the students a black-n-white copy of the SMP Posters.

SMP Posters MPJ 1_Page_2

I asked each student to read through the poster quietly. The groups were to have each member share, “Something you already know about the practice, and something that you don’t know.” As a class each group shared out one of each, which I wrote on the board.

Decont 2

While I used the example at the right to describe the difference between contextualize and decontextualize, I let the students know that today we wouldn’t be doing that. Instead, we would being doing a lot of the things that they already know (using numbers, problem solving, evaluating). I found it very interesting that the class conceded to knowing what problem solving meant, but that they did not know how to do it.

The 4-Digit Problem: I shared the rules of the 4-Digit problem, plus the 2 examples, and asked them to create the value 19 with four 8’s. They struggled which resulted in statements like “I feel stupid,” which I was trying to illicit so I could nix that thinking quickly. I shared that they would not have gotten this far if they were stupid. “I believe that you are all smart; I am paid to make you smartER.” I continued, Since they claimed to not know what problem solving looked like, I asked for problem solving strategies.” I just got blank stares. OK, everybody give something with four 8’s, I don’t care what the value. We threw a few up on the board, and discussed some that were close. I shared the hints given in the lesson plan, and let them go at it again. When I revealed the answer, I got a lot of “That’s cool.”

So I asked them to produce values 1-5. They sputtered again, so I asked for just #1. When I showed one example, they all laughed with “It’s that easy?” They were good to go from there…

4 Digit 5


Wrinkle Sprinkle:

  • 8^0 = 1
  • It was hard, but fun
  • To see it in different ways

First Day in Algebra 1

Day 1 & 2, Thurs Aug 14, 2014

{My school has a special tradition of activities on the first day in order to promote our school motto at Great Oak HS: S.P.I.R.I.T., Scholarship, Passion, Involvement, Reflection, Integrity, Teamwork. Teachers do not officially see their new students until Day 2}


The Drumroll: I have been pondering Carole Dweck‘s Growth Mindset findings, and came up with a couple of vehicles. The first is the Drumroll. I told the students that since this was my only class of the day (I am a math coach in the mornings), I will need their help getting in the right mood for class everyday with the drumroll. It goes like this.

Leader at the Front of the Room (today that was me): “Drumroll, please.”

{students drumroll on the desks);
Leader: “Are you ready to learn?”   

{Leader points as students all hit loudly once on the desk and point back}
Class: “Are you?”

{Everyone fist pumps}
All: “Yes”

The students bought into it more than I anticipated, but they will need some practice coordinating the routine. We will get there. The most important thing was setting the tone that we are going to be about learning in this class.

Opening Quiz on the 6 C’s: I always start every year by answering the transformation question: “How will you (the students) be different in June than you are now, because of my class?” In the past, I answered with the 4 E’s, and structured my Portfolio’s as such. This year, to better align with the Common Core, I answered with the 6 C’s which are the 21st Century 4 C’s and the 4 Smarter Balance claims. Since two overlap, there are only 6. I structured my grade book and my portfolios around these 6 learning categories.

  • Conceptual Understanding & Procedural Fluency
  • Critical Thinking
  • Construction of Models
  • Communication of Reasoning
  • Creativity
  • Collaboration

I gave the students the blank copy of the quiz below, and told them this was not to be graded nor was it a test of their previous knowledge. It was like a movie trailer of things to come, but I still wanted them to give me their best shot. I then gave them my standard 3-response speech.

As a mathematician I cannot always give an accurate response; I can not always give a complete response; I can always, always, always give an intelligent response. Blank is not intelligent.

I pressed them to give me something… numbers, equations, drawings … anything intelligent.

I was waiting for the “I feel stupid comment,” and sure enough I got it. I responded with the “if you made it this far, you are already smart. I am here to make you smartER. As long as you are putting something down on the paper, you are building a wrinkle on the brain.” Then I explained how learning is filling your head with stuff, but making your brain cells reach out and make connections with each other. My new crew responded better than expected for the first day.

Pic Opening Quiz

I posted on the board several of the responses that I saw on the student papers. I shared that these are the 6 C’s of the course. That these 6 things are really what they are here to learn. So I didn’t even answer the questions… that will come later in the course. I just wanted to highlight & explain what the first 4 C’s meant, and the other two would be woven throughout. I said that these things are what mathematicians really do, and that I am paid big bucks to get them all thinking like this in 10 months.

Introductions: I have each student stand up one at a time. They are to briefly state their name and something interesting about themselves. I use the time that they are talking about the point of interest to review the names in the class, so at the end, I can recite all the names in class. 100% this year! I then introduced myself. Good bonding day.

I then shared that the reason that we did math first is because that is what we all about.. learning math … not collecting points. I also assume they can read the grading policy if I gave to them I didn’t have to bore them with it. Since this is the last class of the day, they all thanked me profusely, for that’s much of what they experienced their first day.

Wrinkle Sprinkle: This is another vehicle that I created to promote the Growth Mindset. I explained to the students that when they learn, they don’t just shove stuff in their brain, but that the brain cells actually grow and connect to each. I joked that it was like getting a new wrinkle on the brain, and that we were into growing our brains in this class. Therefore, at the end of each class, we will debrief what we learned and write it on the board… thus a “wrinkle sprinkle.” My favorite for the first day…. “You will make us into mathematicians in ten months.” Yes! Glorious first day.