Tag Archives: general teaching

Journal 3: Try Something

Journal 2 should have been counted as a regular homework assignment, so I’ve jumped to Journal 3, where I started trying to change the anxious, mistake-fearing culture of the class. The text I excerpted from the Pacific Standard was difficult for students to digest, so we spent a good piece of time pulling the meaning out of the text. An editable version of the assignment can be downloaded here: Try Something Journal Prompt

Screen shot 2014-05-28 at 11.52.07 AM

End of Unit Routine

  1. Vocab Day: vocab review games, with emphasis placed on words from the current unit, although other words are included as well.
  2. Study Guide, Day One: The study guide begins with a list of concepts, terms, or skills students will need for the upcoming test, then provides practice problems. To start things out we always read through the list of skills one by one, with a pause for self-assessment after each. The students discreetly show how confident they feel with each skill with a thumbs-up, thumbs-down, or thumbs-somewhere-in-between. They can use the rest of the period to work through practice problems.
  3. Study Guide, Day Two: Open for continuing practice, checking answers, asking questions, etc.
  4. Test Day
  5. Journal or Project Day
  6. Students get Tests Back, Begin Test Corrections

Goals for the Future

At the end of last year I posted a handful of goals I had for improvement. Here is this year’s version.

  1. Create clearer expectations for the logarithms unit — or at least make sure the unclarity is purposeful.
  2. Improve scientific notation materials.
  3. Revise the vocab lists for my word wall.
  4. Be careful about continuing instruction while students are still taking notes on prior info.
  5. Plan for more “discuss/work with a partner.”
  6. Provide examples of written work by previous students — practice critiquing them as class starter activities or as a way to get the writing juices flowing before a journal assignment.

Asking students to think about mistakes

I’ve been loving the new things I’m doing this year. I should be posting more often, but hey.

I’ve started a pattern of spending the day after a test, before the tests have been graded, introducing a journal writing prompt for the kids to do for homework. After the test my kids took this week, I played two short clips from Jo Boaler’s video lesson about making mistakes in math class. The first clip described why mistakes are important to learning, how they can create two rounds of brain activity that don’t exist when problems are solved without mistakes. In the second clip Jo gave guidelines for teachers about how to get students to overcome their fear of mistakes. The writing prompt I gave students suggested that they

  • Describe a time when they had made a mistake in my class
  • Talk about how they feel and react after making a mistake in math
  • Give suggestions for what the class could do to help them view mistakes differently

On average, the journals I received in response to this assignment were less insightful than I’d hoped. But one or two bright spots showed that my work on embracing mistakes as part of the learning process hadn’t been completely lost on the students.

Here are the two clips.

For some reason I can’t get the videos to start at the right point, so navigate to 0:46 on this one to see the bit I showed my class.

Start this one at 1:22.


Even after my vocab-building epiphany, I was inclined to be overly forgiving of slow vocab development. Fortunately my school has speech-language pathologists on staff to collaborate with teachers, and my SLP was quick to direct me toward more exact standards.

For example, one of our favorite vocab-building activities was Math Catchphrase (later dubbed “Mathphrase”). I laminated little cards with mathematical terms on them (some were review words, others were new for current material). Then we played Catchphrase, but instead of reading the word from the disk you pass around, students grabbed their word from a turned-over stack of cards in the middle of the table. On each corner of the table was a piece of paper with the words “Skip Zone,” where students could put the words they had to skip so we could talk about them at the end of the round. After watching us play it once, my SLP saw that the game needed an obvious external incentive for the students to use mathematical descriptions of the words instead non-mathematical ones. So I spruced up the scoring system to reward mathematical descriptions, which made a big difference. Unlike regular Catchphrase, we would reshuffle the words and play again with the same stack for the sake of repetition and reinforcement.

For her end-of-year review, a student came up with her own vocab game (“Draw, Act, or Describe”) that I’m excited to throw into the mix this coming year to prevent overusing Catchphrase.

Goals Jotted Down

I remember drafting this post in May, but I guess it never made it out of my drafts folder. Until now, that is!

05/23/13 Here are some goals I jotted down for improving Trigonometry next year.

  1. Set better sections for student notebooks. The notebook sections I required this year were basically useless. Here’s what they should be:
    1. Notes and Classwork
    2. Homework
    3. Quizzes and Tests
    4. Journals and Projects
    5. Miscellaneous
  2. Trigonometry is not bathroom and drinking fountain time (yeah, it was a problem this year)
  3. Support the “function box” concept better*
  4. Make better intro learning activity for quadratic functions**
  5. Emphasize slope as a rate of change
  6. Contrast rate of change vs. accumulation
  7. More “discuss/work with a partner”
  8. Follow through on promise of notebook checks

7/10/13 Of course there are others, it seems hundreds more. Tweak that activity. Improve those notes. Allow them to critique their own presentations. Make sure homework assignments are worthwhile. But at the end of the school year, the bulleted eight were the goals that seemed big, essential.

*7/10/13 After coming across the illustration of inverse functions that I featured here, I’m not sure if I’ll continue to use the function box. I might.

**Number 4 is my primary curricular goal. At the end of last year I set a primary goal to improve the way I taught logarithms, with the result that this year the logarithm unit was one of the best of the whole year. Quadratics are the first non-linear functions my students study so their introduction deserves to be genuinely meaningful. Thus, it receives “primary goal” status.

Inverse Functions, Illustrated

I’m cleaning out my email inbox and found this in an old, unread blog post:

(This is the blog post, by Dan Meyer. This is the original source of the image, by Rachel Kernodle.)

My efforts at teaching inverse functions this year were fun, but, alas, not very effective. I started with the “function box,” then added the “inverse function box” with the full range of appropriate sound effects, but the two “boxes” were just too similar. There wasn’t a strong enough visual signal of the opposite-ness of the two kinds of functions. Ms. Kernodle’s stapler/remover analogy could be the key to finally getting the message across.