Monday, November 26, 2018

Five Minute Fluency

A few years ago, my coworker Kyrstin (@k_scaliatine) and I noticed that our students were having trouble with their math facts.  I know, math facts aren't everything.  However, many of our assessments in 7th grade are "no calculator" and math facts were impacting their performance.  We brainstormed ways to incorporate fluency into our class.  We knew that giving timed tests was not an option because it can cause a great deal of anxiety for students.  We also wanted to do something more than just rote memorization using flashcards.  This was something so important to us that we decided to devote the first 5 minutes of every class period to fluency. 

We started simple:  decks of cards, flashcards, and dice.  We searched online for games and activities that our students would find engaging and involved strategy.  Playing a game became a consistent way we started class.  Students came in every day, looked at the board to see what materials they needed, and started playing.  And yes, we set the timer every day for 5 minutes! 

We discovered early on that we needed a convenient way for students to access their supplies.  We purchased these from Ikea and labeled bins with student group numbers.  Most of the games are for pairs, so there are two of everything in each bin.

As the year went on, we continued to add to the bins.  We found ways to incorporate fractions, integers, exponents, and rounding into our fluency.  We never talk about speed or getting "faster".  We want this time to be fun for students and to help them strengthen their skills.  Many of the games are actually about strategy and we remind students to focus on that. 

What I currently have in my bins (most games are for two people)

  • Two of every game board (see ideas below)
  • Integer Game cards (1 deck for four students)--from Eureka
  • Two decks of playing cards (for playing integer war, etc.)
  • Two decks of multiplication flashcards (perfect for days with a sub)
  • One bag of dice including 4 six-sided dice and 4 twelve-sided dice
  • One bag of integer chips (yellow/red)
  • One bag of transparent counters (great for playing BUMP!)

Suggestions and ideas
  • No prep math games:  2014 and 2015 editions
  • Integer Football
  • BUZZ--sometimes, we even play good 'ole BUZZ!  We can even take that outside!  (see picture below!)
  • Integer Game--it is part of our curriculum (Eureka), but we still love playing it with ALL our students!  There are variations of the game to make it more challenging for higher levels, too!
  • War--red is negative, black is positive.  Start with simple War (higher card is the winner), flip over two cards to play "addition integer war" or "multiplication integer war", flip over two cards for fractions.... the possibilities are endless!
  • BUMP--there are SO many for free on Teachers Pay Teachers!  My 7th graders love them!
  • Count to 100--roll two 6-sided dice and find the sum.  Continue to add to your total until you roll doubles.  That is the end of your turn but remember your score!  Your partner keeps going until they get doubles.  If you get "snake eyes" (two ones), your score is reset to zero.  First person to reach 100 is the winner!  (plenty of variations!  Try subtracting from 100, etc.)

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Desmos Coloring Pages

I recently Tweeted about my 7th grade students making coloring pages on Desmos.  I originally saw the idea from Sarah Plain and instantly fell in love with the idea!  Here is a little more information, for anyone interested!

If you're anything like me, you find every possible way to get students engaged in math.  Our district is fortunate to have 30 minutes every day for students to take mini-courses that they choose.  This block of time, called "acceleration", is 4 weeks long and courses range from STEM to poetry to sign language.  Teachers create the courses and come up with an outline to get approved.  Every round, students rank the courses and are placed into (usually) one of their top three choices.  I designed a course called "Drawing with Desmos" and my students love it!

Getting Started
Obviously, there is going to be a wide range of background knowledge with seventh graders.  My Algebra 1 students have been graphing linear functions for a solid year at this point, but students on grade level and accelerated (in Pre-Algebra) have not gotten to graphing yet.  I wanted all students to get interested and excited about what they were going to learn, so I started with everyone's favorite:  Polygraph (twelve functions).  I then created a choice board that had different "levels" for students to choose from:  beginner, middle, and expert.  For the students in the "beginner" category, I gave them codes for things that involved plotting points (mini golf, etc.).  For the middle category, I created an Activity Builder that included several different functions, starting out with sliders and ending with marbleslides for each.  And then there was the expert level where students could explore and create pictures.

This went really well for several days.  However, I noticed that students were not wanting to push themselves outside their comfort zone.  Students would create a pumpkin, but only used lines.  I really wanted them to try new functions.  Therefore, once a week, we did an Activity Builder as a whole class and I pushed students to graph using parabolas, exponential functions, and even circles.  And what I started seeing was magical!  Algebra students really stepped up and helped out students that were new to graphing.  Students shared ideas, helped get curves "just right", and were cheerleaders for each other.  Definitely some proud teacher moments here!

Coloring Pages
I was still full of excitement and JOY for my students when I stumbled upon Sarah Plain's (@mrs_plain_LCPS) Tweet.  I came back to school the next day with a new task for my Drawing with Desmos students:  create a coloring page to send to elementary students.  The concept is brilliant:  students choose a picture of their choice to create on Desmos and then they are sent to our feeder schools to show students the awesome things you can do with math!  This helped give students a purpose for creating a picture.  I had a student create the Chicago Bears logo and now there was a reason  That really helped encourage them!  They emailed me their creations, told me the name of a teacher to send them to, and some even created a second picture.  A-MAZ-ING!!!

On Twitter, I was asked if there were guidelines for this project.  Since this course is not graded, it is difficult to have guidelines.  I encouraged creativity, but also realized that some students were still beginners.  I had one student create a Z that took him a week and I was SO PROUD of his perseverance!

*Side note: every Friday of this course, we had a "gallery walk" where students open their Chromebook to something they've been working on lately.  Some students showed a half-finished coloring book page, some showed Marbleslides, and some showed a slide from Activity Builder.  Again, I LOVED that students celebrated everyone, no matter what they were working on!  If you haven't done a gallery walk with Desmos, I highly recommend it!

In the end, I sent over about a dozen pictures.  All students hid the grid and axes, as shown in the pictures below.  I included a cover page for the teachers I sent them to, explaining what the project was and how students created them.  I love the connection it created between our school and the elementary schools.  We are a unit district, but do not connect nearly enough.  I am so proud of all my students and hope their former teachers are, too!

Questions?  Comments?  Just ask!

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Classroom Reveal

I have been lucky enough to still be teaching in the same room I started in.  That's right--I've been in the same classroom at the same school since I started teaching!  It truly is a blessing and one I am thankful for every day.

Over the years, former students come back and visit and comment that not much has changed.  However, *I* know that a lot has.  Take a peek inside my classroom as I explain the changes!

The first thing most of my students notice that haven't visited in a while is that my desks are in groups of four now.  Everything I do involves cooperative grouping, so it just makes sense.  There are group numbers hanging from the ceiling (not pictured).  And I also taped Kagan numbers on their desks.  I added another spin on the numbers by putting them on colored paper.  That way I can even group students based on their color.  I like to shake up groups a lot!  We had six color options in the copy room, so I used all six!

My absolute favorite part of my room is my "wall of fame" behind my desk.  I have so many pictures that now I need to rotate students out, but if I have their sibling in class, I always make sure it's up.  My current and former students love looking at the pictures, pointing out students they know.  I have pictures from student council, class, and 8th grade graduation (which I attend every year).

Over the years, I have gotten away from having posters with math "rules" and formulas on them.  Instead, I want students to be reminded how to work in groups, to focus on vocab, and I have positive messages all around (I'll try to update with a better pic, haha!)  I actually have students create the word wall.  They write the word, definition, and picture/example on it.  I want them to be involved in the process--it helps the words "stick" a little more!  I'll try to blog about that soon!

This year I was lucky enough to win a grant and get Wobble stools!  They are a huge hit with students!  The table I got last year, since our amazing custodian was able to find an unused one in the district.

My classroom library is something I am extremely proud of and have blogged about it here.

Exit tickets are turned in by students at the end of the block inside these folders.  Students put their exit ticket inside the folder that best describes their understanding of the day's lesson.

I decorated clipboards I found at Goodwill using scrapbook paper and Mod Podge.  I hang them in the unused space under the board.  Students love choosing a clipboard of their choice!  I used a variety of colorful patterns, including hearts, baseballs, and paw prints!

Every teacher in my building is required to display the day's learning target and homework.  The custodian cleans the board every Friday after school and had already gotten to it by the time I took this picture ;)

All student materials, extra handouts, the pencil sharpener, assessment calendar, bell schedules, etc. are located in one place.  I choose to put it in the front of the room every year because I want students to feel comfortable accessing it, but also easy for me to grab supplies when I need them for demonstrations, too.

Two years ago, my coworker and I started doing "5 minute daily fluency".  Maybe this is something typical for an elementary school teacher, but we are super proud of this.  We got these bins at Ikea and have all their materials in one drawer per group: dice, integer chips, flashcards, decks of cards, and game boards.  Even in 7th grade, students benefit from (and enjoy!) playing a quick fluency game at the start of class.  We do a lot of multiplication and division practice at the start of the year, but add in games involving multiples, fractions, and integers as the year goes on.  It's something consistent I do the first 5 minutes of class, it's fun, and it gives me time to check in with students, if needed.  I'll blog about it soon :)

And lastly, I was inspired by everyone's math tables I keep seeing on Twitter!  Unfortunately, large class sizes (and a gigantic Chromebook cart) have meant that I just don't have space for another table.  I had a couple empty shelves and decided to start with that (sorry for the blurry pic!).  In the blue bin are some math toys for students, such as a Rubik's Cube, wooden puzzle cube, and the game "Insanity" (shown below).  I also have old pages from a Mensa calendar that students can come and grab.  I already have students running over to the shelf if they have a few minutes.  Love it!

Would love to get your feedback!  Any suggestions?  Anything you like or want to try?

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Their Favorites

One of the things I wanted to incorporate into my blog was sharing out what my students truly enjoy about my class.  I love when former students visit and mention activities, projects, or something funny that happened in class.  I shared a Google Form with several former students a few weeks ago and I have already gotten several responses!  Tonight, I received this one:

I love Sarah Carter's blog and back in January, I put up her 2018 challenge (blog post here).  It was a hit with my students!  We had already done "four 9's" in September, and my students became very competitive, very quickly.  I used Sarah's template to make "four 4's" in April and "four 5's" in May.  It was incredible to see my students figure out patterns, learn about factorial (and double and triple factorial!), and collaborate.  And they never got bored with it--every day, they'd race over to the chart and see what numbers were still needed.  So when Luke posted that it was his favorite part of class last year??  It is clear that this is an activity I will be continuing this year!  I strongly recommend it to anyone and everyone!  And thank you, Sarah Carter, for the awesome activity!!

Monday, August 13, 2018

My Classroom Library

Growing up, I never liked reading.  I remember my mom signing me up for the summer reading program and hating it.  Reading was a chore.  About 8 years ago, that all changed.  My school rearranged our homeroom time so that we had 20 minutes twice a week for "sustained silent reading", or SSR.  Teachers were also required to read during this time.  I asked my sister for a suggestion and she recommended The Hunger Games.  I finished it quickly, never wanting to put it down.  The good news was that the next two books in the series were already out, so I was able to keep reading.  I finished all 3 books in three weeks.  Prior to that, I probably didn't read 3 books in an entire year.  Filled will joy and excitement, my sister recommended Divergent.  I have been hooked on dystopian books ever since!

All teachers were asked to have a small classroom library for students needing a book during SSR.  I started going to Goodwill, Half Price Books, and local book sales to get books I had already read.  I also paid attention to what students were reading and bought those.  Students started giving me book recommendations, so I would get the book, read it, and then put it in my library (very important to screen books first!).   

Here is what my classroom library looks like today:

My books are sorted into "books in a series" and "non series", then alphabetized.  If they are in a series, I also add the number to the label.  I have a checkout clipboard, book return, and bucket of bookmarks for students to take.  I also put pictures of my favorite book covers on the bulletin board, because a student once told me she chooses books based on the cover.  I spend time every summer searching for new books and purging books students no longer are interested in (I take them to Scarce).

But the part I think is most important is that I have read almost every single book in my library.  Students come to me for book recommendations all the time.  As their math teacher, I am not telling them what they should  read.  Rather, I ask them what they're interested in or what they've read recently and make a recommendation (or two).  Last year, a former student was going on spring break and emailed me for a book recommendation--3 years after I had her in class!  Students have even told me I have the best classroom library in 7th grade :)  Their interest and happiness keep me going!

I keep a few Algebra 2 textbooks, math books (such as G is for Googol), and "Choose Your Own Adventure" on the bottom shelf.  I love having a variety of books available to my students at all times!

Sunday, August 5, 2018

9 Things to Quit

Maybe you can relate... I used to be a super confident educator and leader.  But the past couple years, it seems like we are constantly presented with new initiatives and expectations to be more rigorous/engaging/innovative/etc.  There is pressure to "try this" and "try that".  While some jump on board right away, I'm a little more cautious and am perceived as being "not flexible" and "not innovative".  My confidence has definitely been tested recently.

Thanks to TMC, I learned about Evernote--the BEST way to save websites, tweets, and anything else you want to search for later!  I was going through my Twitter "likes" yesterday to save some ideas and stumbled upon this:

As I prepare for a new school year, I am going to try to quit these.  The two in particular that I will focus on quitting this year are #1 (trying to please everyone) and #8 (thinking you're not good enough).  I have an amazing support system at my school and I know that they will continue to help lift me up.  And as Julie Reulbach reminds us all, "you are enough".

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

My Goal for the 18-19 School Year

Last year, I took on way too much.  I will admit that.  Two new curriculums, meetings during almost every free period, 3-week mini-courses I had to create and plan for... It was a lot.  I was also the student council advisor (which I LOVE), coached math team, was the math department chair for my building... oh, and was finishing up my second masters.  I constantly felt overwhelmed, overworked, my to-do list was always growing, my weekends were eaten up by school work, and I stayed at school until 6 or 7pm every single night.  I felt guilty when I went to my parents' house or spent time with my friends because I knew I had other things to do.

But things are changing this year.  I am still the StuCo advisor and co-coaching math team.  However, I found out at the end of last school year that I will not be the department chair this year.  After 8 years, I will not have that title anymore.  It was a big pill to swallow, but I'm slowly adjusting.  It's bittersweet: it's something that I have worked hard at for several years, but the time commitment was starting to wear on me.  Oh, and did I mention I'm done with grad school?!?!  That's right, I finished my Masters of Education in Technology Education.

So, my goal for this year: HEALTH.  Here is how I plan to meet my goal:
Image result for goal health quote
I am committing to leaving work "early" once a week.  Our students get out at 3:25pm.  Most teachers are gone by 3:45pm or 4pm and I will never be able to do that (I like having a clear desk and everything ready for the next day).  However, I want to leave by 4:30pm once a week.  I had grad school on Tuesdays last year, so I plan to continue to leave early on Tuesdays.  I also commit to leaving by 6pm every night--no more 7pm (or later) nights!

I also commit to working out more regularly this year.  My favorite workout class is on Tuesdays, and because of grad school, I haven't gone in two years.  I started up again this summer and plan on continuing all school year.  In addition to this workout class, I plan on working out 3x a week.  Leaving earlier will definitely make this easier to stick to!

And lastly, I commit to supporting my students more.  I love watching them play basketball and volleyball.  I love going to baseball games, plays, and other events at the high school and seeing my former students.  I am looking forward to having more time to do this during the school year!

Hoping writing this out will help me to stick to this goal of mine.  I'll be sure to share an update after a couple months :)

What is/are your goal(s) for this school year?  How will you get there?
Image result for taking care of yourself quotes

Friday, July 27, 2018

My TMC18 Reflections

During the summer of 2017, I was definitely in #TMCjealousycamp.  All these people I looked up to on Twitter were all together... without me!  I wanted so badly to be with them, meet them, reconnect with them, and be a part of this world I saw on Twitter.  It was my goal to go to TMC18.

My friend was getting married the Saturday of TMC, so I decided I'd go to the first half of TMC.  But then the summer decided to have other plans.  My cat, Grant, was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism and the best option was radioiodine therapy.  This meant he was going to get an injection, be away for 4 long days, and then come home, filled with radiation and a long list of protocols to follow.  His procedure was set for July 9.  Earlier this year, one of my closest friends from college was diagnosed with cancer.  And her first surgery was the week before TMC, on July 11.  I wanted to visit her, and since she lives in Toledo, OH, it's not too far from Chicago.  Then it dawned on me--I might be able to make this summer turn around.  I emailed Lisa back and she thankfully agreed to let me come to the first half of TMC.  I spent Tuesday with my friend in Toledo and then Wednesday through Friday in Cleveland.  I drove home on Saturday and was able to go to my friend's wedding.  She was absolutely beautiful.

So was this all worth it?  YES.  Here is why:

I frantically needed a roommate, especially since a room was $200+ per night.  I put a message out on Facebook and thankfully, Jennifer Abel came to my rescue.  I am forever grateful to Jen for being so welcoming and generous!!  She become my TMC buddy, a familiar face when I was overwhelmed, someone I could get lunch with, and someone that became a friend.

Wednesday was the Desmos Precon.  As a Desmos fellow (cohort 1), I was so excited to reconnect with the teachers and Desmos faculty I met back in 2016.  My students and I LOVE Eli--he's so nice, funny, and always makes you feel like you're special.  They're convinced his name is "Eli Desmos".  I spent the first two sessions learning about computation layer.  I have a lot of work to do, but I'm not giving up!  It was there that I met Megan Dubee, one of the sweetest people I met at TMC and super patient as I tried CL again and again.  I snapped this selfie during Desmos Happy Hour--can you tell how ridiculously happy I am?!  Favorite picture of TMC, no lie :)

On Thursday, I started my day with Chris Luzniak and Mattie B in their session called "talk less, smile more".  They are so friendly and so hilarious!  I learned many strategies to get my students to talk, debate, and communicate more!  My #1TMCthing is to use "claim" and "warrant" debates this year in my class.  I'll be tweeting about it, I promise!!

Hearing everyone's "my favorites" was so amazing--it is a small snapshot into what is truly special to a teacher.  It's what inspired "their favorites", a tab on my blog.  Check it out :)  The "first timers" dinner showed that the TMC community truly cares about everyone at TMC, not just the "veterans" that go every year.  I felt included, loved, and had the greatest dinner with Julie, Michelle, and Jen!  Thanks to Sam for squeezing me in and snapping this photo!

Friday was my final day at TMC and I'm so thankful to have been there for Julie's keynote.  Julie's keynote resonated with so many people in that room.  I was one of them.  It's not that I had a "bad year", but my confidence in my teaching definitely was tested.  Someone once told me that I am "conservative" in my teaching: I don't take risks.  And it's true.  Because I don't just Google an activity and do it on the fly.  I don't spend 2 weeks on an activity because it's "fun" and "hands-on".  And because of that, I'm not "doing enough".  I'm not a "great teacher".  As Julie quoted, "It is hard...when you are constantly reminded of all the things you should be doing if only you were a great teacher."  Nevermind the investigations my students are doing, their problem solving, their communication with one another, technology... So Julie's keynote was a reminder that, you know what?  I am enough.  I am doing what is best for my students.  My students are learning, growing, and having fun.  Thank you, Julie!

I left TMC about an hour after Julie's keynote.  I spent the rest of Friday and all day Saturday back in #TMCjealousycamp.  And then Sunday came... and the excitement of knowing that TMC19 will be in northern California, somewhere I've been wanting to go for years!  I will do everything in my power to attend.  My TMC time was too short, but was still the BEST professional growth I have ever been a part of.

I hope to see you all next year in Berkeley!

My First Post

Welcome to my blog!

I, like many others, was inspired at TMC18 to start a blog.  Thanks to my best friend's husband, that became a reality!  My goals are to share with others what I'm doing in my classroom, but also collaborate on activities and projects.

So why "Cupcakes and Pi"?  I LOVE cupcakes.  I make it a point to get a cupcake in every city I visit.  I'm a picky eater, so the idea that I can pick out whatever flavor I want is amazing!  In addition, I'm a nerd about all things pi.  I find pi absolutely fascinating!  I started school-wide Pi Day activities at my school back in March 2008, my second year teaching.  We began a pi reciting contest and a pi poster competition.  Over the course of the years, students strive to beat the school record.  The school record of 418 digits set in 2015 was shattered this year when Ryan S recited 504 digits of pi!  Check out these results!

Thank you to Elissa Miller and my sister, Suzanne, for their help coming up with a fun name for my blog!  Let the fun begin!

Things I Will Continue in 21-22

I hope everyone reading this is doing well, staying healthy, and enjoying the summer!  Wow, what a year we all just had!  I haven't blog...