Tag Archives: algebra

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.

Graph of the Week (New Site)

Kelly teensI am getting the word out on this awesome site: Turner’s Graph of the Week. My friend Kelly Turner did a presentation at the Great San Diego Math Conference last spring and I loved her idea of having students analyze graphs from magazines and newspapers. These are mostly one-quadrant graphs with a natural context. This ties in directly to the Common Core’s call for applications and for reading non-fictional text. I was so impressed that I encouraged her to go public with the idea. I am serving as her megaphone.

Kelly does this activity once a week with her students, thus the name. The site offers several features:

    • Graphs. You don’t have to find your own. Kelly has already posted 12, and will post more on the GOWS page of the site as the school year progresses.
    • Submissions. If you like the activity and have graphs of your own that would serve others, email them to turner_k@auhsd.us. Kelly will screen the submissions and build the online collection.
    • Templates.  There is a generic worksheet template with writing prompts to guide students in reading, interpreting and analyzing the graphs.
    • Samples. On the home page Kelly will offer the graph that she is currently using for the week. Directly below that will be a student sample of the previous week’s graph.

Try it. If you like it, share with your colleagues. The same graph can be used at multiple course levels, with the level of questioning being adjusted to the level of students.

Kelly thanks for all the work on this. You have made teachers’ work easier and students’ education better.

Mr Cornelius’ Desmos Lesson

This lesson on graphing conic sections rocked on multiple levels. For the students, it involved concrete mastery of standards, conceptual understanding of several topics, higher order thinking skills, student autonomy and intellectual need. For the teacher, Mr. Cornelius of Great Oak High School, it was a week’s worth of experimenting with new software and pedagogy. The genesis of the lesson was a combination of an email and a diagram. I had sent to my Math Department a link to the free online graphing calculator Desmos.com; a mutual colleague, Michael White, shared the idea of having students use their knowledge of equations to graph a smiley face. Mr. Cornelius merged these ideas into a new 5-day lesson in the computer lab. That week produced a multitude of pleasant surprises.

Desmos smile 2

Michael started with a whole-class demonstration of Demos at the end of the period on a Friday. He posed the Smiley Face graph (shown above) as the minimal requirement for passing the assignment. The strength of this lesson is two-fold: 1) There are a variety of equations involved (circle, ellipse, parabola, absolute value, as well as linear), and 2) repeated restriction of the domain and range.

Michael invited students to create their own designs for a higher grade. He expected only a few takers, but in the end only a few decided to produce the Smiley Face, and this is where the richness of the lesson was truly found. During the week-long lab session, I observed one of the days and took a few pictures of some works-in-progress.

Desmos spiderDesmos MinnieDesmos CatDesmos House Alien
As you can see, the students independently chose to include inequalities in order to produce the shading. Here was my favorite use of shading.

Desmos Arnold

What really impressed me about the lesson was the examples of students who asked to learn something new in order to produce something they chose to create. In the example below, a student wanted a curly (wavy) tail for her pig. Mr. Cornelius taught her how to graph sine and cosine waves. Granted, this was a superficial lesson, but to see someone wanting to learn a skill from next year’s course was a treat.

Desmos Pig 1

The rigor that the students imposed upon themselves, again as demanded by their creative idea, was remarkable. Look at the detail of the door handle on this house.

Desmos House Desmos Hinge

Desmos Lesson

My favorite moment was this one with Michael and a handful of students. It is not as sexy as the pictures that the students were producing, but it was far more significant. Three students all had a similar question, so Mr. Cornelius conducted a mini-lesson on the board while the rest of the class worked away on their graphs. The topic on the board was not part of Michael’s lesson plan. It was sheer improvisation. For me, this interaction was the treasured gem of the lesson experience: A teachable moment generated by an intellectual need.

This was the first run of Michael’s lesson and in a conversation that we had while he was grading the assignments he conceded that he needed a scoring rubric. We also discussed how this idea could be woven throughout both Algebra 1 and 2 courses. The idea of Graphing Designs could span linear, exponential, quadratic and conic equations. I smell a lesson plan brewing!

(P.S. For those of you that get hooked on Desmos, I suggest you also check out the Daily Desmos Challenge)

Interpreting the Graph of a Helicopter Flight

A colleague of mine at Great Oak HS, Reuben Villar, found this wicked cool app at Absorb Learning.Helicopter
Click below to access the free online version of the app, by Adrian Watt.

Helicopter App

We incorporated this app in our latest lesson, Tubicopter (sample page here). It intensely challenges student understanding of graphing by directly contrasting the physical flight path of the helicopter and abstract shape of the graph of the relationship between time and the helicopters altitude. Toy with it and leave your comments here.