Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Notebook Pages

I am really happy with how the Math ISNs are going this year. The students are taking ownership of them. I have had two students lose theirs and one student spilled water on his, but all three have wanted to redo their notebook so it has everything in it. 

Most of the pages I come up with are me thinking quickly what the students will benefit the most from. I try not to make too many copies for the notebook. I asked the students one day if they just want to write stuff down in it, or do they like the construction paper and color. They like the construction paper and color. I think it is a more fun way to take notes, it is visually appealing, AND it makes the notes easier to read. 

Here are some pages from the last few weeks. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Freddy Fractions

Freddy Fraction is a FREE app that uses equivalent fractions and decimals and percents. 

Students have to get the bee to the honey pot by dragging the bee to the fraction next to them that is equivalent to the decimal in the top right corner. In this case, the decimal is .88 and the equivalent fraction is 7/8. One downfall of this game is it rounds decimals to the hundreths. So while my students know that 7/8 is equivalent to 0.875, this game rounds that decimal. 

I like that the app doesn't just use the simplified fraction and uses equivalent fractions as well. 

As the game progresses, percents are added and the path to the honey pot gets longer. 

Monday, December 14, 2015

Writing and Graphing Inequalities

I had a good week last week, compared to last week. Things were clicking, the students were understanding and I was able to pull small groups on solving equations. 

We started with these cards. I wanted the students to connect the inequality signs with real world situations, so I made this inequality matching set. 

Day 1:

First Sort: I first gave students the cards without the signs. I asked them to come up with a way to sort the cards. They needed to have at least 2 groups and could have as many as they wanted. Some of the ways they sorted them.
  • Numbers more than 50 and less than 50 (or some other number). --These groups didn't pay attention to the situations.
  • Situations with more than one answer and only one answer. --I didn't expect this one and I was excited to hear it. 
  • Situations the were positive or negative--really those that were less than or greater than. 
  • Situations which were less than or greater than
I heard so many great conversations among my students as they sorted. 

After their initial sort, we talked about the word inequality and what it means. One girl said that an inequality has more than one answer--a wonderful response. 

Second Sort: After introducing them to each of the signs and learning the new less than/greater than or equal to --I asked them to resort the cards in 5 groups now. This was a little more difficult for them to distinguish when it was equal to and when it wasn't. But as I walked around I got to talk to the students about how to tell the difference by questioning them. 

Day 2:
I used this foldable to sort phrases into which sign they go with. I gave the students the cards back and asked them to look through them to find a phrase like "no more than" and identify which sign it goes with. 
Day 3:
We started writing the inequalities. We did some class practice and I called students to the board and the we added this page to their notebook and they practiced with their groups. 

Day 4: 
We started graphing inequalities. I had some examples on the board that students came up and practiced and then they finished the above page from their notebook.

I ended the week hearing students say this was so easy. Their exit tickets showed that they are understanding this. I know that when we start solving inequalities, it might be a different story though. 

The Inequality Sort Cards are available in my store now. 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Math Mistakes

I want my students to know that a mistake in math class is not the end of the world and that you can recover from them. Not only can you recover from them, you can learn from them!

To show them I mean what I say, I keep track of the math mistakes I make in class. When I add instead of multiply or I completely botch a problem--we make it a learning opportunity.

Sometimes the students notice before I do and say "Mrs. Stowe made a math mistake" other times I notice and ask them to find what I did wrong. 

It hasn't helped everyone, but I do have students willing to say what they are thinking even if it might be wrong. And students are willing to come up to the board, even if they might be wrong. We can all learn from each other when we make mistakes--even the teacher. 

Some days are better than others. I made it several weeks without putting many tally marks on the board. But the closer it gets to Christmas, the more I have to add to the board! 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Class Incentive

Oh my! Only 6 more school days until Christmas break and we are all ready. I am so excited to see my family and can't wait for my daughter to open her presents. She has seen all of them--but she is only 2 and will still be excited Christmas morning when she opens them. 

So... how do you keep classes of 6th grades excited about following classroom expectations? I am not big on giving rewards in the classroom--I wish I could eliminate them all together--but I am not ready yet. They are a crutch I occasionally use. 

If you use rewards, here is one way for the class to work together. I was introduced to this at a training last year. Each one of my classes has their own 100s chart. Every time I feel like the class has worked well, or entered the classroom quietly, or we've had a good discussion, etc I cross off a number. I use a random number generator app I have on my phone to pick a number. 
Once the class gets 10 in a row in any direction, they will all get a prize. Probably candy. The first day I did this was the day before Thanksgiving break--one class got 8 numbers crossed off in one day because they were so amazing. 

Any ideas for keeping kids excited between the holiday breaks?

Monday, December 7, 2015

Dan Meyer-Math Class Needs A Makeover

I hope every math teacher has seen this video.

He starts by saying we sell a product that students don't want but are forced to buy. I love math--always have even if I wasn't always good at it. I wish my students could see how awesome it was. But am I doing a good enough job actually want them to buy into the product.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Reflecting on the Week--Thoughts on Solving Equations

I hope I am not alone in saying that we all have weeks where we don't feel we are effective teachers. This past week was one of those for me.

I started the week with a good idea that didn't quite work that way I wanted it to. Then I felt like I had to cram 3 days of instruction into 5 days--because another day this week we had a benchmark testing day. I had also promised my students we would be doing guided math/center time everyday. So I felt rushed to stay on schedule.

We were learning how to solve one-step equations. We had modeled how to solve one-step equations before Thanksgiving break using algebra tiles. The plan was to learn the steps for isolating the variable and solving for it by performing the inverse operation.

When I was in school--this was when I started not getting As in math. I was able to following steps and do exactly what I was told to do. But when problems were slightly different from what I was shown in class--I was not able to solve it. I didn't understand the reason behind what I was doing, so I couldn't figure out how to solve more difficult problems. It wasn't until I had College Algebra teacher explain things and when I was studying for the GRE that I read the reason behind the "tricks" I had learned.

I don't want my students to be in the same position I was in. Telling students to solve a one step equation just by performing the inverse operations does not work in every situation. When my students saw -4+x=12 they immediately said they needed to subtract 4 from each side. Well, that doesn't work here.

While using inverse operations will work in most situations with solving equations--it doesn't solve for 100% of problems.

Instead, my students need to have a good understanding of integer operations and commutative property to solve the above problem. If my students understood that -4+x was the same as x+-4 and then could change that last expression to x-4, then they could use the inverse operation and just add 4 to each side.

So this is where I am. If my students truly understood everything I taught them this year, they could apply that information to new situations. So I am on the hunt for ways to help my students apply the information they are learning.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Blog Posts I Love--Part 5

Another post of blog posts I love. I found some great ideas this week and want to share them with you. 

1. From Embrace the Drawing Board--The game integer-nary. It is like pictionary, but with integer equations. For example, a student might draw the equation -3+7=-4. Then on a white board, they model it and then their team has to guess what equation it is. I am doing this in my math centers as soon as we get back from Thanksgiving. The students can also move to modeling expressions like 4x+5 and algebraic equations like x+3=10. 

2. The week before Thanksgiving the students had a science benchmark. Our schedule was different for the day and I wanted to have an interesting activity for my homeroom to do afterwards. 

Enter--Hexaflexagons. At Math=Love she shares how she introduces the whole lesson. My students LOVED making these. I had instruction, but lost the copies. But most of the students were able to figure it out on their own by watching the videos linked in the blog post. I did have the template for them to cut out. 

This is one of my student's hexaflexagon. 

3. Counting Circles from Who is a Math Nerd?

This is a whole group activity that has students count by a certain number. Say you start counting by 10s but you start at 63. Or you count by 1 1/4, but you start at 1 1/2. It is a mental math routine and I can already imagine it being helpful to my students. We have transition time and sometimes we wait for other classes to be ready to switch. This could be a helpful activity during that time. But I would also like to make time for it in class because I would like to give the students time to have a discussion about their counting.

4. Smart Classroom Management

I just found this blog and I love it. It is a classroom management blog--which is one thing I am always trying to be better at. Good learning cannot happen if there isn't good classroom management. I feel like most good classroom management is just common sense and begins by treating students as people with needs and wants. This post is about letting students get out of their seats and establishing routines. I plan to go through this blog thoroughly.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Card Clutter

Another FREE app. Algebra Card Clutter.  At first glance, it seems very basic. But it provides good ordering practice for students. 

Basically, students order numbers as fast as they can. It start pretty simple with just natural numbers, but then it gets progressively harder adding different types of numbers. 

Students are timed as they go and work up the levels. 

Monday, November 30, 2015

Instant Feedback Part 2

So we all agree that giving students feedback on their work is important. (see this post) AND the fast you can give it, the better.

Using technology is an easy way for students to get feedback. Most apps that students would use to practice fluency and new skills gives them immediate feedback.

Most new math textbooks now come with online access for students. Even if most of your students do not have access at home to the internet, you can still give them to option to complete homework online.

However, not every one has access to technology. I am extremely lucky to have 10 working computers and 10  ipads in my room which we use on a daily basis. However, not every classroom has technology and there might not be an app or activity online that covers what you are doing. There are still activities students can do.

Fill in a Riddle

There are several resources where students solve a riddle by completing math problems. We use Pizzazz books on my campus and there is basically practice sheets for every concept we teach. As students solve the problem, they find their answer. If the answer isn't there, then they know they made a mistake. 

QR Codes

There are so many ways to use QR codes in your classroom. You will need a device that has a QR code reader on it. You can have task cards where students do the work and then scan the code to check their answer. You can add QR codes to the end of a worksheet where students check their answer.

You can have card sorts where students have to match cards where each card has one half of the QR code and then when they match the card they put the QR code back together. If it scans, the answer comes up correct. If the QR code doesn't scan, then it isn't the correct answer. Just google QR code math activities ( or any subject) and see what comes up.

Color by Number

Even middle school students will color. This is similar to the riddle. The students solve a problem and if they find their answer on the picture, they know they are correct. With this, along with the riddle, students can easily get the riddle and picture by copying. Make sure to require students to show their work.

Graphing Picture

To practice graphing, mystery pictures provide lots of practice and students can see by the end if they have a picture or just a jumble of points. These mystery pictures do not just have to be ordered pairs. There are some that make students solve a problem before getting the ordered pair. For example, (-3+-4, -5+2) is the ordered pair (-7, -3).

What other ways have you found that help students see if they are on the right track?

Friday, November 27, 2015

CAMT 2016

I was selected to present at the Conference for the Advancement of Mathematics Teaching next summer. I am so excited and now I am nervous.

My session is on Thursday June 30 at 10 am. My room will hold 180.

One Hundred Eighty.

I will have a microphone. I am nervous and anxious. I have 8 months to plan and change plans and plan some more.

My topic is on Writing in Mathematics. Something I've tried to be better at in my classroom this year. The students find it difficult at first, but they get better with practice and scaffolding.

So, if you are at CAMT next summer, come see me!

Thursday, November 26, 2015


Happy Thanksgiving.

I hope you will have a relaxing day today.

I am sure that I am not alone is saying this: I love this time of year. I love the smell, the weather, the time off school. It is the time of year when all my brothers and sisters come on town...its amazing. It is 6 weeks of awesomeness.

I have so much to be grateful for. This has been a great year. I graduated with my Master's and moved into our new house. I got to spend time with my little girl and husband.

When I was a teenager, I had teenager problems (who didn't.) To make myself feel better, I would list everything I was grateful for. I haven't done it in a while because while I have adult problems, I have a better perspective of what life is about. But I still have much to be grateful for.

My small family of my husband and daughter
My big family.
The gospel of Jesus Christ
My house
My career
A community of teachers
Sleeping In

I could keep going, but it is time to get started for the day. To end, here is my little girl.

What are you grateful for today?

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Instant Feedback Part 1

As part of my master's program I had to do a large research project. I researched whether using technology in the math classroom would improve student attitudes about math and increase their confidence in math. I used student surveys before and after a unit using our online mathematics textbook to track changes in student attitudes and confidence.

The survey asked students to strongly agree to strongly disagree with statements like "Math is difficult for me" "I know I can do well in math" "Learning math is enjoyable", etc. After comparing the results from the pre and post survey, there were no significant changes expect for one statement. "Math is difficult for me." Students went from agreeing with that statement to disagreeing. I gave them an open ended question on the post survey to tell me what they liked about the online textbook. They responded that they liked the feedback and help it gave.

They said:
"It provides a video to help me understand"
"It tells you when you do something wrong"
"It gives more chances"
"It gives you similar problems until you get it right."

I came to the conclusion that students benefited from the instant feedback they received on the website. Because they were instantly able to tell if they got a problem right or wrong, they were able to find mistakes and correct them. A majority of my students were able to see proof that they did understand the concept and felt better about their ability to do math.

Other research also finds that using technology with feedback improves student attitudes towards math. Feedback gives students a chance to improve and then reflect about what they are doing. They correct misconceptions before it becomes solidified. It tells students mistakes are okay and can be learned from and fixed. Students feel like they are improving when they fix mistakes and learn from them in time to not repeat it on the next problem.

We give students feedback when we grade, but it is not instant enough. If students take a test, they go home and most forget about what they were thinking while taking it. If feedback is instant, they remember their thought process, their strategies, etc, and are able to see what worked and what needs improving.

Technology isn't the only way to give instant feedback to students. Later, I'll share some other ways to give feedback to students.

  • Cavanaugh, C., Gillian, K.J., Bosnick, J., Hess, M., & Scott, H. (2008). Effectiveness of interactive online algebra learning tools. Journal of Educational Computing Research. 38(1), 67-95. 
  •  Kim, J., & Jung H. (2010). South Korean digital textbook project. Computers in the Schools, 27(3), 247-265).
  • Zerr, R. (2007). A quantitative and qualitative analysis of the effectiveness of online homework in first-semester calculus. Journal of Computers in Mathematics and Science Teaching 26(1), 55-73. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Thinking Blocks

Here are FOUR! free apps that require students to use strip diagrams (bar models) to solve problems. Each app has a different focus, addition, fractions, ratios, or multiplication. These are also available on the Math Playground Website. 

Your students might need some coaching on how to use a bar diagram. strip diagrams are a helpful way to see the relationship between quantities. I wish that I had bee shown how to use strip diagrams in school. Especially for ratios. 

Each app has different levels that get progressively more difficult and use different types of situations. 
The students are given feedback as they place each part of the strip diagram. If they get it wrong at first, they are prompted with question to think about to help them. 

Not every student loves this app, but it is helpful for them to practice making bar diagrams to model situations. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

My Favorite No

I love when student analyze their mathematical errors. (Which is why I liked this activity)

This is another way to have students analyzing errors when the teacher pictures her favorite wrong answer.

Sometimes a students has the perfect wrong answer because it leads to so much rich discussion with the class. Then every one has the opportunity to learn from a mistake.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Scientific Laws and Scientific Theories

While I have students after school waiting for buses to dismiss, we watch education related videos. Sometimes we watch CNN Student News and sometimes we watch Ted Education videos. This is their new one this week. If you believe a theory graduate into a law, you need to watch this.

In my Science Teaching for Middle Grades class I took in grad school, we discussed this topic a lot. Most people have misconceptions of what a scientific theory is and think that it will one day "graduate" into a law. (Which is what I thought at one point in my life.) A theory in science is not like a theory in other content areas.

So when people here things like the Theory of Evolution or the Big Bang Theory--they hear theory and think there is not enough evidence to support the theory to become a law so it should not be given too much weight. Not the case. 

Having a scientifically educated population is important for our future and our children's future. Teachers need to make sure they understand what they are teaching. Many elementary teachers are not given proper training in science teaching--or the time to teach it. I love teaching math and I think it is extremely important to my students futures that they understand the basics of it--especially financial literacy and reading graphs. An understanding of science affects who we vote for, what policy are leaders create, what gets published in textbooks, etc. 

Unfortunately, most schools are not going to provide the training to make sure that teachers know what they are teaching. It is up to teachers to research, read peer-reviewed articles, have subscriptions to journals, and ask when they don't understand. This way they are doing everything they can to provide the best lessons for their students with the most accurate information. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Blog Posts I Love-Part 4

We are getting closer to solving inequalities when we get back from Thanksgiving break. My students still confuse the > and < signs, and then we add the "or equal to" and they get even more confused! Dana Boucher from Math Coach's Corner write about these signs and then relates them to a number line.

I feel like my students are a little more snappy with each other. We are all ready for Thanksgiving break but I want them to be comfortable working with each other. This Edutopia post talks about creating a classroom culture with laughter. I would like to try a few of the activities once a week.

From Math Coach's Corner again--Using Data to Plan Remediation. My data drives my instruction, especially my small groups. This post was a good reminder of what data should be helping you with. It reminds me of standards based grading, instead of traditional grading.

I need more comfortable shoes for work. I look forward to Thursday and Friday--not just for jeans but for tennis shoes. So here are 30 brands of shoes that are teacher friendly.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Follow Me on Pinterest

I took a break from Pinterest but now that it is almost Thanksgiving I am looking back over all those fun craft ideas I pinned for the Holidays. We are about to have our first holiday season in our brand new house and I am really excited to decorate. Pinterest is where I store all my ideas for what to make.

If you are interested, follow me on Pinterest!

Visit Randi's profile on Pinterest.

I also have two boards that I use to store teaching ideas. One for math ideas and one for general teaching ideas.

Follow Randi's board Math on Pinterest.

Follow Randi's board Teaching on Pinterest.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Create a City--Coordinate Graphing

This was another project my students did. They had to create a city. I have seen this idea floating around Pinterest for a while. Like the last project, I liked how this had students word backwards then what normally do when practicing graphing. 

The requirements were to have at least four buildings, and one needed to cross the x or y axis. They had to tell me the corners of each building and name at least one point inside it. The could decorate it however they wanted and as much as they wanted. I know that some students don't enjoy being forced to be artistic. I hated that in school. 

Here are some colorful examples. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Create a picture-Coordinate Graphing

I gave my students a project a few weeks ago and I love how it turned out. Instead of giving them coordinates to make a picture, they drew a picture and then gave me the coordinates. I was not sure what I would get out of them, but I was impressed. I want to tweak how I present the project to the students and once I do that, I'll share what I gave the students. 

They had to include at least 60 coordinate pairs, have at least 5 shapes, and graph in all 4 quadrants. 
Dr. Who anyone?

Sunday, November 8, 2015


Another free app to share.  It is not super easy so my students who like a challenge enjoy it. 

Kakoom was created by Greg Tang, who has lots of resources on his website.

The app has changed since I first downloaded it. I like the look of it now, but students do have to create an account before using it. All my ipads in my classroom have the old app so I do not have to worry about that. But if I did, I would just create one account and sign into each ipad app with that account. It is not easy to get signed out, so you wouldn't have to continue to do it.  
This is the description of the game. Students can practice multiplication, addition, and addition of negative numbers. The negative integers is my favorite part of the game because there are few integer operations practice games out there. 

The accounts are to keep track of points. Students can play practice rounds or play live with other students from around the world. 

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Blog Posts I Love-Part 3

Part Three of Blog Posts I Love that I ran into this week.

This lesson uses Green Eggs and Ham as an introduction to variables and solving equations.

I made a promise to myself a while ago to not read posts about people complaining about being a teacher. Recently, there have been several blog posts in my twitter/facebook feeds about teachers who resigned because they were unhappy with the direction education is heading. Over at Venspired, Krissy Venosdale writes about how she will never resign.

There are a lot of things in education that I want to change. But there are also a lot of good things that happen every day. Also, if we want things to change, it starts in the classroom. I will do my best to make the changes in my classroom and be an influence to teachers and students around me.

I want to remember to show my students this way to subtract by thinking as subtraction as the distance between two numbers. It would eliminate a lot of problems/mistakes that come with regrouping. It wouldn't always be the most efficient way to subtract. From Math Fireworks

Over at Show Your Thinking, she uses a color coding system to grade. Instead of putting number grades on a paper, students use the colors to see what they did and didn't understand.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Order of Operations Errors

We've been working on Order of Operations this week and my students have the Order part down, but it is the Operation part they need some help with. 

I did an activity where I asked students to purposely make a mistake when evaluating the expression. Then the class had to find their mistake.

My students LOVED this. It went over so well and they all wanted to go up several times to try to stump their classmates with the tiny little error they made. 

Eventually, I found 3 students who had evaluated the expressions in 3 different ways and then had the class explain their mistakes. 

They made mistakes with the exponents, solving in the wrong order, ignoring grouping, not regrouping when adding and subtracting, etc. It shows that they know what type of errors are common and will hopefully be on the look out for it. 

I have a station that I will pull out next week where the students will get an expression solved two different ways and will have to sort them into correct and incorrect. That station is available in my store. If you have it, make sure to re-download it because I made some updates to it. 

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