MTBoS Mission #6

I keep getting farther behind, but I think anyone in education knows that beginning-of-quarter/holiday season is crazy. Per Mission 6, I am definitely loving all the MTBoS goodness going on.

My feed reader of choice is InoReader. I have a Feedly account, too, but I am not here for their search being a paid feature. I am a poor teacher / graduate student, so I am happy to say that InoReader has search available for free (Google Reader, it must be said, still stands as the best, RIP). It may not be as snazzy looking as Feedly, but I find that the Light Theme with Modern Blue icons looks just fine. I forget how many feeds I follow – something like 70? – but of course, they don’t all update frequently. I still get excited when I see that I have new posts to read.


I don’t keep a virtual filing cabinet. I keep links organized and tagged with delicious, which was thankfully spared a fate similar to Google Reader’s. When I was still in college (2008), my educational technology professor had us all create accounts and I’ve stuck with it ever since. If I think there’s any possibility that I will ever use any files, I download them and keep them organized in a hierarchy of folders. Also, very importantly, these files are all saved in Dropbox because I had a scare my first year teaching and fear losing everything. There’s folder for each class, subfolders for each unit, and then subfolders for each skill. And all files are sorted by type with a prefix in their names. This year I’ve been trying to be better about deleting junk that I’ll never use, but I admit that I hoard files.


For everything I print out and laminate (card sorts, scavenger hunts, bingo cards, etc.), I’ve started organizing by filing cabinet. I bought hanging files and hanging pockets to hold everything (units organized by color and using the included plastic labels). This is a work in progress, but it’s making everything much easier. If there’s anything I could go back and tell my first-year self, it would be to buy a laminator then and use it constantly. This is my first year with it and it’s glorious.

Theoretically, I also keep binders organized by class and unit to keep masters of everything I print out during the year (in plastic sleeves, too), but honestly, I stack all the masters in a pile near my desk instead. I don’t think I’ve updated a binder since September. I guess I can’t have it all.


MTBoS Mission #5: Chatting

Even though I am behind on blogging still, I did actually attend the Algebra I twitter chat last week. Following the chat was no problem; I followed along on my laptop (so, the web version of Twitter, no special apps). I even participated by responding to all the questions. It was so exciting! My iPad app, despite not using it, kept dinging to let me know I had responses. When I’d refresh the page, there’d be several new responses – I was multi-tasking (making cookies, working on lesson plans, and chatting). It was fun to read everyone’s responses to the questions as well as the conversations that developed from the responses. Everyone was so thoughtful and encouraging.

Overall, I would like to attend & participate in more chats. It seems that the algebra I and middle school math chats are always at 9pm EST (which makes sense to include people to the west), but I like to go to bed early, so staying up until 10 every week or twice a week isn’t likely to happen. However, I will pay attention to topics that are of particular interest to me and I can always read back on the tags later.

MTBoS Mission #4: Listen and Learn

I’m a week behind, but I’m going to try to attend a twitter chat tonight or tomorrow to catch up.

I wasn’t able to attend the Global Math Autumn Special Event on Saturday because I had other plans, but I started with watching “My Favorites: Problem-Based Lessons and Tasks” because not only is this something I’ve been trying to incorporate more and more each year, but it’s become a hot topic in my district and even at the state level. I went to a VA SOL institute last month and the focus this year was on creating tasks. I have collected various tasks for geometry, measurement, and proportion, but I have very little for algebra. Of course, it’s also difficult to change the culture of math learning; students aren’t used to problems that take a while to solve, when they have to look for information, etc.

  • I like how Julie Reulbach showed real tasks that she’s used, like the Four 4s and the Busch Gardens cups. In the beginning of the year, I use Krypto, which is similar to Four 4s, and I’d never thought about it as a task before. I don’t think I encourage students to work on those enough.
  • Alisan Royster reminded me about the NRICH website, which I haven’t looked at in a while. Number pyramids would be a good way to incorporate more tasks into pre-algebra. Many of my students lack a solid foundation in number sense, so it’s important to incorporate that with patterns and problem-solving.
  • Megan Schmidt also talked about NRICH. I’m glad that she mentioned the tags, because I’ve found those really helpful.
  • Finally, Justin Aion talked about Mathalicious, which is a fabulous website that I’m guilty of not using more often. I have a couple of their tasks saved up for future topics, but I haven’t used anything yet this year. Justin mentions that his students are used to being able to work quickly and getting answers right away, which is something that rings true for my students as well. I looked at his blog post on his students’ work with the Domino Effect and I love seeing the creativity. This reminded me that I don’t allow for nearly enough projects in class (Why isn’t there enough time to do everything I want to do?).

I’ve never visited the Global Math site before, but there are several that I want to go back to watch. It really is wonderful to have access to so many resources and I think I can consider myself a new fan of the webinars and podcasts.

Just this week, my spouse has started listening to Welcome to Night Vale, so it seemed fitting that my first Infinite Tangents podcast was Welcome to Night Tangents. I couldn’t hear the weather song very well, but the rest of the show was a perfect mix of MTBoS and WTNV. I’ve added the rss feed to my reader so I can keep up with new episodes of the podcast.

I’m so glad to have found these new resources, though it reminds me that I could seriously work 24/7/365 and still not absorb and apply everything. Still, I’m grateful for everyone’s hard work and the collaborative environment the MTBoS has online.

MTBoS Mission #3

The math teachers of the MTBoS have done an outstanding job of making interesting resources available. Just reading through the mission, I saw so many sites that I’ve heard of and used, and then there are even more to look through! I couldn’t pick just one to blog about:

  • I’ve been inspired by 101 Questions. Just today, I came across Gas Pump, which would be great during my upcoming proportions unit. I want to incorporate as many tasks and real-life examples as possible because students don’t seem to get a chance to talk about those enough. There’s no more home economics classes or shop classes to get to apply their math skills and I’m under the impression that not a whole lot goes on at home for most students either.
  • I use Estimation 180 every day in my enhanced (remedial) pre-algebra class. It’s the warm-up each day and after the first couple of minutes, during which the students complete the too high, too low, estimate, and reason, I call on someone to write all the estimates on the board; there are 15 students in the class. We compare them and see if any repeat. During the video answers, we’ll pause and ask if anyone’s changed their answers.
  • Visual Patterns is part of my Algebra I weekly warm-up schedule. The students, for the most part, seem to enjoy these days and they’ve gotten much better at sketching step 27. At first, they balked at the idea and either tried to draw the entire step 27 or they gave up all together. Sometimes they have trouble figuring out the equation and I’ll give them a hint or I may leave it until the next day so that they’ve had more time to think about it.

In the future, I’d love to use Daily Desmos, but that may wait until I teach Algebra II. What a great Problem of the Day! Also, I’m going to check out Mathagogy and Collaborative Mathematics. So many great resources to check out! I’m so grateful for stumbling onto all of them.

MTBoS Mission #2: Twitter

If I don’t do this blog post now, it’ll never get done.

I joined Twitter last year so that I could follow other math teachers. Primarily, I lurk and read posts and conversations (overpowered by shyness), but occasionally, I’ll respond to something. My first tweet was almost exactly a year ago:


For the MTBoS mission, I’ve followed a few new people, tagged a couple of things with #MTBoS, and shouted out to Robert Kaplinsky for inspiring me to write a task like his What Rides task. Originally, I was just going to borrow his images from the Knotts Berry Farm, but since I’m in Virginia, I decided to go with a Busch Gardens theme, since most of my students have actually been there.

I haven’t gotten the gumption yet to really introduce myself via the blog or Twitter (which of course, per the mission, should be something I try). I’m more of a passive, gently-insert-comment-into-conversation type. Maybe soon?

Hopefully I’ll contribute more to Twitter this week. Last week flew by so quickly!

MTBoS Mission #1

Per Sam’s post, I’m responding to the second prompt:

  • What is one thing that happens in your classroom that makes it distinctly yours? It can be something you do that is unique in your school… It can be something more amorphous… However you want to interpret the question! Whatever!

I have two activities that I reuse every year for enrichment: 1) the Soma cube and 2) SET. They are two things that my students come to associate with being in my classroom and the students are eager for both challenges.

Soma Cube Template

1) When I was in college, the delightful Professor Dana Johnson introduced us (the math-ed undergrads) to the Soma cube. She instructed us on how to build each piece and we glued them together and labeled the sides during one class period. Whenever my students finish an assignment early, they race to be the first person to get the cube. Some students figure out a way to put it together in minutes; others take several attempts to figure it out. My pieces are labeled by number so that the students can write up their solutions. With over 200 ways to put it together, I encourage multiple solutions from those who are quick to figure out one method. Putting the cube together is one way for students to earn achievement stickers, which is a monthly competition between the classes (the winning class gets cookies).

SET game cards

2) SET is my go-to game when there are a few minutes left in class. Once I introduce it to my students, usually within the first week of school starting, they’ll start asking me if they can play the pattern game. The great thing about using the New York Times’ puzzles is that they change daily and there are four levels ready to go. I just project the game onto the Smart board and call students up when they see a SET. Like with the Soma cube, each level of SET is worth an achievement sticker for the class. This is one of those great activities that generates discussions on what makes a SET and why a certain combination didn’t work. We discuss the mistakes and sometimes I’ll give a hint if they’re close to finishing a level but short on time. It’s a great way to keep the class from descending into chaos when there’s a couple of minutes left.

Both of these activities are important for various math skills (spatial reasoning, pattern recognition), but I think they’re special in my classroom because the kids remember them year-to-year. For the students who I have more than once, they immediately gravitate to one or both upon returning. Even students who come to visit like to try their hands at the cube before they leave. I like the activities because they remind everyone that it’s okay to make mistakes, because we learn from them, and that it’s important to persevere.