Classroom Happenings 2.1

I can’t believe it is February!  I am excited to wrap up the percent part of ratios and proportions this week and head into Geometry!  I think we have some cool stuff going on this week I thought I would share!

Weekly Math Coversheet 2.1

I don’t think I have paid enough attention to the generating equivalent expressions piece when it comes to percents and was determined to get it worked in better this year.  Those games you used to play in elementary school when you come up with as many words as you can from a given word and thought it would be a great way to kick that off.  You can find the worksheet I made here!  Equivalent Percent Expressions

Other things going on this week are the Mathalicious lesson Biggest Loser.  Please note this is the one Mathalcious lesson that I don’t use the teacher or student guide for.  I focus strictly on the percent of change and why that is a better measure for selecting the winner than pounds lost.

I will follow that up with this great Illustrative Math task.

By the end of the week we will have some review stations set up as well but I haven’t gotten those quite figured out yet but will post when and if I do!

Stay tuned for some great Algebra I stuff from my friend Jill as well!  What are you doing this week?




Classroom Happenings 1/25

7th Grade Math

Funny story….

We only went to school one day last week due to Winter Storm  Jonas and its precursor storm so this week I am going to do those things I said I was going to do last week.  There is a slight chance that one the one day we went to school I got a wild hare and did the Mathalicious lesson PayDay.  The kids always love this lesson and think it hilarious to learn about how many years it would take me to earn what Lebron James does in a year.  (Here’s a hint I’ll be dead before it happens haha!)


I will add in a Mathalcious lesson this week called Time of Your Life mainly because my Facebook Timehop reminded me I did it this week last year and it is one of the best so I will teach it this year and add more of a percent twist in my questioning and conversation.


Algebra I

We are working on polynomials right now, I have two quick activities to share thanks to my wonderful teaching counterpart Jill!

The first is a Adding and Subtracting Polynomials Partner Activity  You give each student one of the polynomial cards (or you could even have them write their own which I did one class period when I realized the other class threw the cards away.)  They then travel around the room “partnering up” up with people and following the directions on their sheet.  This is a great way to get the kids up and around the room!


The second is a simple factoring Bingo activity called Matho that is just a more fun way to do some of that GCF practice.


What are you doing in your room this week?



Classroom Happenings 1/18

I have decided to try (notice I said try) something new for a few weeks and share what is going on in my classroom.  I know teachers are always looking for resources to put to use so I thought I would try and make it a bit easier to find some of my go to things this way!

We are currently wrapping up 7.RP.3 in the ratio and proportions unit.  Last week we focused on mentally finding percents and estimating tips.  We did lots of silent teaching which I promise to blog about soon and a lot of mental math.


One of the things I have started doing is giving the kids a weekly cover sheet for keeping track of vocabulary, tracking goals, etc.  You can find this weeks here:

Weekly Math Coversheet 1.18

We are going to be doing a lot of real world problem solving and you can find lots of the activities linked below:

Jock Tax

Dueling Discounts

Homework Assignments:

Double Discounts

Tax & Tip

25% sale


I have one last activity I am still working out in my head that I will share when I decide if it is brilliant or terrible!

Have a great week!



What Common Core Did to My Classroom

One of my favorite colleagues, Mike Fannin, always pushes me to be a better teacher by asking those really reflective questions that there is no right answer to.  Today Mike, a social studies teacher, sent me one of those really fun and irrational anti-Common Core articles and asked my thoughts.  Once my blood pressure returned to normal range I begin to really think about how to put into words what Common Core did for my classroom.

Before Common Core I was a typical math teacher.  I had my curriculum maps and and state standards which read like a skill and drill check list that I marked off one by one whether the kids understood them or not.  I used really “great” methods and math terminology like “butterfly method”, “keep switch flip”, “leave opposite opposite”, and so many more that I would love to forget.  I moved to Kentucky the year that KCAS (Kentucky’s Common Core) was adopted and thought “how different could it be?”  The answer to that question can be answered easily with a quick peak inside my classroom today.

Today, my classroom is cognitively busy and alive with excitement about numbers.  We no longer focus on skills, timed tests, facts, or catchy phrases to make students remember things that have no meaning to them.  Today, we do math talks, counting circles, estimating, and reasoning instead of direct instruction.  We take the time to understand numbers and their meanings rather than memorizing facts.  I don’t drill random formulas and information into students heads so that they can remember it long enough to pass a test rather than understanding it to a depth that can be applied to real life.

I really do understand the reason so many parents seem to get upset about the “new math” associated with Common Core. After all, it is change and change is difficult but here is what I know. I have talked to tons of adults and not one has told me that they have to take skill and drill tests daily at work or risk being fired. When I ask what they have to do at work I get a lot of answers but there is always a common theme, in real life we are no longer asked to use math as a check list of skills that we either know or don’t know. Instead real life is about using the math to solve real problems, to be a critical thinker, to reason, and actually understand what is happening around them. Those are all the things along with many more that Common Core has brought to my classroom.

As I hear about states repealing Common Core and more and more anti Common Core material being pushed out there I have thought a lot about what will happen to my classroom if Common Core is removed or replaced as my standards. The answer the that question is nothing. You see, Common Core has already forever changed my classroom. I will never be nor to do I want to be that teacher from 5 years ago that was more worried about test scores and a check sheet that student understanding. I can never go back to that boring dull classroom when I have seen kids come alive and get so excited about really understanding math for the first time. No amount of reform, or Facebook posts, or anti-Common Core rants can take away what Common Core has already brought to my classroom.

7th Grade Common Core Taboo Cards

One of our MDC PD days last year included a math vocabulary taboo game that was really fun. I printed the cards out to play with my 7th graders but found myself removing lots of the cards that were high school vocabulary based and that my students didn’t know yet. I developed these cards by 7th grade Common Core Unit with the thought that I would print each unit on a different color paper so I could quickly identify what unit the vocab came from. If you can use these in your class please do! We always have days were we have assemblies and come back to class with five minutes left and need an activity or the power is out and we need a back up activity or we got done with a test early and need an activity so I am hopeful these will help make good use of that time.

Also, after you have made taboo cards for rate, unit rate, constant rate, proportionality, etc the taboo words begin to run together so if you have a suggestion to make one of the cards better please let me know!

Expressions and Equations Taboo

Geometry Taboo

Number System Taboo

Ratios and Proportions Taboo

Stats & Prob Taboo 

A Reflection on “Who or What Broke My Kids”

I Broke My Own Rule

I have a silly rule in my class that I don’t allow any vine videos to be taken in my room. The reason I always tell the kids is that too many things I say can be taken out of context in an eight second video clip. I always explain that if they want to secretly video my lesson for some strange reason to please video the whole class so their parents will know there is a method to the madness. After all, I have been known to do some crazy things in the 65 minutes the kids are with me all of which could be taken the wrong way without knowing the context of the lesson.

A few weeks ago I posted the piece “Who or What Broke My Kids” after an interesting day in class. Recently that post ended up on Hacker News, Reddit, MetaFilter, and a few other sites with a great deal of controversy regarding the methods and mathematics involved in my class that day. After dealing with the initial shock of reading what people were saying about the post I realized I broke my own rule. I gave people a written equivalent of a vine video and let them take my classroom out of context.

Classroom Culture Can’t Be Captured in Print

A great deal of the comments centered around the fact that no one could believe that I had a meltdown in class and “berated” the kids by calling them broken. I realize this is my own fault as I was the one who used the terms broken and meltdown however what the commenters failed to realize is that I spend weeks at the beginning of the year developing a classroom culture that encourages a free exchange of ideas between me and the students. So what seemed like a 10 minute lecture to most of the commenters actual went a lot more like this: “Guys, can we take a time our here for a minute… What is going on here…You seem really concerned about whether or not I think you are right…Do you think you are right…Which cards do you think definitely have a right answer…Do you think there are cards that don’t have a right answer…” etc.   I wasn’t angry with the kids I was disappointed that they wouldn’t trust their own instinct and reason on their own.

Why I Can’t Always Tell Them They Are Right or Wrong

A lot of commenters focused on the fact that it was a poor teaching strategy to not tell the kids if they were right or wrong. They thought the kids were just looking for guidance and that I was withholding that from them. I can assure you that isn’t what they were looking for. The kids wanted me to give them the answers and the whole point of the activity was for them to engage in that productive struggle we all talk so much about these days. Every teacher has had this happen, the kids were asking if they were correct and when I would give feedback they would switch around a card or two and say, “well how about now…now…what about now”. Kids are really good at getting teachers to give them the answer. I have done it myself frequently. We see them struggling and want to help but instead of helping them think we give them answers and bail them out. I was determined to not let this go that way.

 Despite My Best Effort I Can’t Predict How Every Activity Will Go

Another center of controversy was the fact that I should have been able to predict the lesson would go this way and frame it in a different way so it would not go that direction. I work with thirteen year olds who I love dearly but are terribly hard to predict. This was not at all their first experience with these types of probabilities. We had been working with the standards for a couple of days and the formative assessment data collected showed they were ready for a more challenging activity so we gave this a go. This was also not their first experience with this type of card sorting activity either. I am not exactly sure how I could have reframed it to help them without taking that productive struggle away from them but am open to suggestions.

In the End

In the end, I learned a lot from this experience. The whole reason I started this blog was to help me find my voice as a teacher. A great deal of the posts I write are more for myself than anyone else and I seriously doubted my decision to start the blog in the midst of this experience. Reading what people were saying about the post on some of the social sites was eye opening.   Some people thought if I wanted to teach this way that I should be at a Montessori school while others thought I shouldn’t be allowed to teach at all. Many thought the problem was the fact that I don’t teach math like it was taught when they were in school and that my job was to be the gatekeeper to information rather than a facilitator of learning. Some people said they wished I was their child’s teacher others claimed if their child had me as a teacher they would have their child removed from my class.   However, after taking the time to really reflect on the whole experience I realize this is exactly what I needed. I now know I do have a voice and it is a strong one. Although not everyone agreed with my methodology or thoughts they were taking about it. The goal in my class the day of this post was to generate discussion and I was not only able to do that in class that day I was able to do it in the blog world weeks later as well.

Who or What Broke My Kids?

I am Desperate

I am on a desperate search to find out who or what broke my students.  In fact I am so desperate that I stopped class today to ask them who broke them.  Was it their parents, a former teacher, society, our education system or me that took away their inquisitive nature and made math only about getting a right answer?  I have known this was a problem for a while but today was the last straw.  

A Probability Lesson Gone Wrong

It started out innocently enough working on the seventh grade Common Core standard 7.SP.C.5 about understanding that all probabilities occur between zero and one and differentiating between likely and unlikely events which I thought would be simple enough. After the introduction and class discussion we began partner work on this activity from the Georgia Common Core Resource Document (see page 9).  The basic premise of the activity is that students must sort cards including probability statements, terms such as unlikely and probable, pictorial representations, and fraction, decimal, and percent probabilities and place them on a number line based on their theoretical probability.  I thought it would be an interactive way to gauge student understanding.  Instead it turned into a ten minute nightmare where I was asked no less than 52 times if their answers were “right”.  I took it well until I was asked for the 53rd time and then I lost it.  We stopped class right there and proceeded to have a ten minute discussion on who broke them.


If You Can Type the Problem into Wolfram Alpha and Get an Answer You Aren’t Doing Math

When did we brainwash kids into thinking that math was about getting an answer?  My students truly believe for some reason that math is about combining whatever numbers you can in whatever method that seems about right to get one “answer” and then call it a day.  They rarely think about what they are doing as long as at the end of the day their answer is “correct”.  Today they were given a task with no real correct answer and they lost it.  It did however lead us to have a very productive discussion about that fact that they are lucky, after all they live in the 21 century where they can solve any computation problem with technology with no issue.  The problem I told them lies in the fact that they have no idea how to interpret that answer.  We talked about the need for them to stop worrying about if I think their answer is right and to start worrying about whether or not they thought their answer was right.  I told them I was sorry someone (maybe me) broke their desire to think about math and instead taught them that math was a means to an end where there was always one right and one wrong answer and then I told them to try their assignment again.

Probability Revisited

Things went so much better the second time around with not one student asking me if their answer was “right” (perhaps out of fear of another Powers meltdown).  For the first time I heard some really rich discussions that were sometimes correct and sometimes were not but the important thing was the kids were talking about the math.  There was a great discussion about the circle that was shaded in vs. the circle that was not shaded in.  The obvious answer was that the shaded in circle represented one and the unshaded represented zero but another group of students thought maybe the non-shaded circle was actually shaded in with white and would therefore represent one as well.  Fabulous.  Another group focused on the statement “it will rain tomorrow”.  One student had seen the weather and knew there was a 90% chance of rain the other had not seen the weather and though the probability was 50% since it would either rain or not.  They compromised and picked the middle but that’s not the part I cared about, I cared that they had a reasonable discussion about their thoughts.

Why Constructing a Viable Argument and Making Sense of the Reasoning of Others is Crucial

This may seriously be the most vital mathematical practice.  If students can’t share their ideas and understand the ideas of others is there any real point in them “doing the math”.  After our lesson redo I paired each group with another group to share their number line.  Their goal was to look for similarities and differences and explain their rationale about why they placed controversial cards where they did.  I heard some of most logical and articulate arguments we have had all year.  I think I heard, “I like what you did there, but…” repeatedly along with “I hear what you are saying”.  We brought it back together as a whole class to follow it up and each group shared the most interesting conversation that they had.


In the end our meltdown and redo took more time than anticipated by me but it was time well worth it.  If we are to truly make progress in getting our students to understand the concepts presented in the Common Core to the depth intended we must help them learn to stop looking for a right answer and start looking for a right reason.  I still don’t know who broke my kids but I know it is up to me to fix them one argument at a time.