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Trig Scavenger Hunt

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I had been playing around with this idea in my head since last fall, but I didn’t have the time or ambition to get it all put together. Well, the planets aligned and I was able to get everything together last week, and my students LOVED it!

The Set-Up
First, I created 5 different basic web pages and put a different problem from our first trigonometry unit on each one.

Next, I used this QR Code Generator to create a different QR code for each one of these web sites. I printed out these QR codes and posted them in different classrooms around the school. (Note: I consulted teachers, office staff, and the nurse first to make sure that they were okay with students coming into their work areas during the day.)

Following this, I used each of the answers for the problems on the websites as an input, I created an equation that would give one of the classroom numbers with a QR code posted in it. (To be clear, a different “equation” for each problem.)

Finally, I made sure that the library’s iPod’s had a QR reader app installed. We used QR Reader for iPhone which is available for free in Apple’s App Store. It worked very well.

The Implementation
I broke my class up into five groups and gave each of them a sheet of paper with a different 1 of the 5 questions on it. I folded these sheets of paper in half and stapled them so that the groups would all start at the same time. I also gave each group an iPod from the library. I explained that when they solved the problem and then applied the algorithm, the answer would be a room number that would have their next code in it. I told them that they were searching for a QR code in the room and that they needed to use the iPod to scan it. When it was scanned it would open a web page with a new problem on it. The first group that answered all 5 questions and came back to me would be the winner and receive five bonus points. They were eager to get started. We had a count down and they got started. After they solved the first problem they ran out of the room in a cloud of organized chaos. It was awesome.

Student Reactions
The feedback from this activity was fantastic. I heard a student say, “That was SO cool!” Another looked at me on the way out the door and said, “Good work, Davis. That was fun.” Other students exclaimed, “We should review like this all of the time!!”

While I am glad that the students enjoyed it, what really got me excited is the fact that every student was involved. One of my students, Bethany, who has been cashing out lately, perked up and said, “Wow, Davis, you must have put a lot of time into this!” Also, a student who has contributed very minimally during the last 25 weeks, came back frustrated that he couldn’t solve a problem. The ensuing dialogue went something like this:

Dennis: One of the problems didn’t work.
Me: Oh yea, which one?
Dennis: The one where you had to find period.
Me: How did you go about doing it?
Dennis: I used BP=2pi
Me: Show me on the board.

He worked it out correctly on the board. His group was reading algorithm wrong and therefore not finding a room number. I was able to sort this out and reinforce that he was, in fact, doing the correct work. This gave him confidence going on in review and gave me a renewed desire to continue working hard to build his skills.

Things to think about…
Make sure that the locations where the QR Codes are places have a strong wifi signal.

Now that I know the activity was a success (socially, academically, and technologically) next time I will make more than five review problems and therefore more than five groups. Having fewer students per group will put the onus on more students’ shoulders and get even more students involved.

This activity was well worth the effort. I am definitely going to do it again. I may not do it as often as my students want to, but it will definitely reappear. The students were actively engaged in doing mathematics and (dare I even say it) they were having fun! To me, that is what teaching mathematics should be all about!


SBG Update

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I jumped with both feet into SBG with my Algebra 2 classes this year.  The first ten weeks I had a student teacher to help with some of the flow of students.  I have been doing it by myself for the last 5 weeks.  It is definitely time for some reflection…

  • I love that students are able to clearly identify what they know and what they are struggling with.  I love that students are able to redo their quizzes until they are happy with their grade.  I LOVE that students are able to see correlation between staying after and doing corrections and success on the subsequent test.
  • Some teachers who are considering making the move to SBG are worried that it will be a bookkeeping nightmare.  I have not found that to be the case.  In our gradebook software, I am able to enter the best grade, while putting in a comment of when they attempted a correction and what the previous grade was.  This method has worked well for me.
  • I have started making two versions of every quiz so that I always have make-up problems ready to go.  This has been way easier than trying to make up problems on the fly.  I have created a folder for each quiz. In that folder I have created folders for each topic on that quiz.  In that folder I have created documents with the individual make-up problems.  This has worked to keep me organized.

One reason that I am an advocate for SBG is that I think it has great potential to not only strengthen the mathematic ability of the students, but to make them better students.  My students (and I don’t think I am alone here) sometimes get in a funk when they start asking the “when am I ever going to use this” rant.  I get on my soapbox and tell them that school is more than learning a book of facts.  That students need to learn work ethic, perseverance, responsibility, and dedication.  I think that SBG has the possibility to reinforce these skills.  I have been hitting some roadblocks, however, that I am looking to remedy after the holiday break.

  • First, I created a google form and have a link to it from my webpage so that students can easily “sign up” to come in and make up a quiz.  It would make it infinitely easier on me if I knew who was coming in on any given day/period so that I could be prepared for them.  As a whole, my students refuse to sign up.  The new librarian requires the students to sign up in the same manner if they want to go to the library.  She stuck to her guns during the first few weeks of school and even though there was a lot of stubbornness in the beginning, the students sign up without any problems now.  I think I may have to be the meanie and not let them stay after unless they have signed up for the first few weeks after break to really get the message across.  I should probably take this up with the department head and the principal first….
  • Some of my students are messing the flow of correct the problem you get wrong, do a similar problem to show that you understand, and then get graded on the new problem.  Some of them think they can sneak through without correcting the problem. This never works, but it bothers me that they sill try.  Others seem to think that just by doing the make-up problem they automatically get full credit.
  • Finally, I need to create an environment after school that is quiz like.  They should not be getting help from friends on these make-up problems.  I want to see what they know.  I want them to prove to me that they know how to do the topic if they want their points.

This sounds kind of negative, but trust me, that is unintended.  I have also seen the wonders of SBG.  One of my students got a 30 on a quiz before a test.  He came in afterschool, did all of his corrections.  Asked questions when he did not understand something.  He did make-up problems and raised his grade to a 95.  He then took a test and earned a 97 on his unit test.  Success.  Another student had taken a quiz and then come in afterschool and made up one of the topics.  In the next unit we had to use the skill that she had stayed afterschool to go over and she was able to explain it to her group.  They all looked amazed and she just glowed and said, “I know how to do it because I stayed after and made up my quiz.”  Success.  The very concept of SBG works.  It is just up to me to tweak it so that it works for me and my students.



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In my school district we keep being told that we are “ahead of the curve” in the development of SLO’s (student learning objectives). Most of us just feel lost and without any guidance. This is not to put down our department or building leaders. They simply do not have the information available from the state. It has been frustrating, but I had a moment last week where I actually got excited about my SLO.

We were required to give a pre-assessment in the course(s) for which we were writing a SLO. There is no precedence on this and therefore we have no idea what these pre-assessments should look like. We have been advised not to give an old Regents Exam or even part of an old Regents Exam for the course. Obviously, the students would do poorly and by the end of the year the students would do better and show remarkable growth. Frustratingly. some of my math colleagues are doing just this. I decided to build a 15 question pre-assessment. Five of the questions were old Integrated Algebra Regents questions. Five of the questions were old Geometry Regents questions. I tried to select these ten questions that demonstrated requisite skills for Algebra 2 with Trigonometry. Lastly, I selected five questions from an old Algebra 2 with Trigonometry Regents. I decided to exclusively use multiple choice questions so that the students could complete the pre-assessment in one period and also so that I could grade it in a reasonable amount of time.

I entered all of the scores into excel and created a distribution based on these base scores. My fellow Algebra 2 with Trigonometry colleague and I decided to try to raise these scores by 10% on the June 2013 Regents Exam. I then multiplied all of the students scores by 1.10 to develop “target scores.” Next, I looked at this new distribution. I compared this with our Part I score from last year. Although we hoped for similarities, we could not have imagined results that were as aligned as this.



Since we can not be sure exactly who will go up and who will go down, we set our goal as, “50% of the students who take the Algebra 2 with Trigonometry Regents Exam will raise their from Part I score by 10% from their pre-assessment to their post-assessment.” Hopefully, they will come through!!


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Well, the school year is off to a full sprint!!! In addition to my “regular” job as a highschool mathematics teacher, I also teach stats at a local college. This is the first time that my college class has coincided with the opening of the school year and it is exhausting!!!! My course load was changed this year as well. I am now teaching three Algebra 2 with Trigonometry classes, a Calculus course that runs concurrently with out local community college, and one section of Academic Intervention Services (AIS). I have not been terribly happy with my Algebra 2 state exam results and since Algebra 2 constitutes the bulk of my course load this year, I decided to revamp the course.

In my opinion, New York state puts it’s students (and teachers!!!) in a tough spot by teaching a bunch of Algebra for a year, taking a year off to teach Geometry, and then coming to Algebra in the third year. I decided to spend 4 days doing some basic algebra skill review in the form of an Algebra Bootcamp (a la Sam). I focused on exponents, greatest common factors, basic trigonometric ratios, and factoring. I think the students enjoyed easing back into school and not having to jump right into a new unit. Also, teaching this review unit allowed me to give my students a good starting off point for my foray into Standards Based Grading (SBG).

I have been dabbling in SBG for the past couple of years in my Fundamentals of Algebra course. I loved the pedagogy behind it, but I never felt that it was terribly successful. I think part of the reason was that I was not as fully invested into it as I should have been and that the lower level freshman did not have the desire and drive to take advantage of the possibilities to raise their assessment grades.

My Algebra 2 students (mostly Juniors) and Calculus students (all Seniors) have taken off with SBG! I have gone from feeling lonely in my room after school to having at least a half dozen students in my room. My student teacher and I have been diligently working pairing them up or putting them in small groups and the mathematical discussion that has taken place has been awe-inspiring. I can’t wait to hear more conversations down the road as the students get more used to using conversation to think and discuss mathematically!

I have been trying to find a way to have them “sign-up” on my website before they come in. I have embedded a google form into my website. It seems to have a few bugs in different browsers. I am not totally sure what is going on there. Ideally, I would like the students to sign-up ahead of time so that I had a list of who to expect and I could take attendance. Also, I could report to parents or administrators exactly who came to extra help. And I would have it all done without a bunch of unnecessary paperwork! Furthermore, if I could find a method that worked for me, I could know ahead of time who was coming in and I could have customized retakes all ready for them when they arrive!

Overall, it has been an exciting and hopeful couple of weeks. Usually by now in Algebra 2 I am starting to feel a little discouraged and worried about the looming Regents exam. This year, however, I am excited to see how these changes will affect the success of my students on the exam! I will keep you all posted.

New Teacher Advice

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This is an article that I have written as a response to Bowman’s open call on his website. If you don’t follow him already, you should!! He is doing some really great things!!

I have been teaching for 10 years. For the past 3 years (and the upcoming school year) I have hosted a student teacher in their standard student teaching placement from Syracuse University. I am by no means, however, an expert. The single thing that I have to offer my students, prospective teachers, and “new teachers” is to never stop trying to be better. Don’t ever settle on thinking you are good enough. Go to workshops. Continue to take college courses. Follow fellow educators on twitter. Read blogs of teachers that you relate to. Heck, start your own blog! The list goes on and on.

I have never witnessed a great teacher who is reluctant to change. I had the pleasure of having lunch with a Social Studies teacher who was only a couple of years from retirement. I was amazed one time how he told me that at the end of every year he threw every test and quiz he had written during the course of the year. He felt that he would start teaching to his assessments if he did not do this rather than assess what he taught. I was floored. Here was someone who “outsiders” would assume is just coasting until retirement. What these outsiders don’t know, however, is that he was a stellar teacher because of his constant willingness and desire to adapt to his students. He was willing to change to hone his craft right up until the end of his career. In order to be effective he understood the necessity to be willing to change.

This is the advice I always give to my student teachers; always be changing . Teaching to me is less about the product and more about the process. Is it about the ability to factor trinomials with leading coefficients other than 1? Or is it about the process or the journey that is taken in order to be able to understand how to factor said trinomials? In order to stay relevant, you must adapt the process to the students are currently enrolled in your class even if the end product will look the same. There is a ton of “practical” advice to be given to new teachers, but in my heart, I think it all boils down to the willingness to adapt as a young teacher.

Logarithm Laws

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I killed logarithms this year. My students really understand logarithms. I have not always been able to say this, but this year I was feeling good. I can not for the life of me figure out why the students can not apply the three basic logarithm laws. They really struggle expanding out condensed expressions. They have a hard time condensing expanded expressions. When they have equations of the form:


it doesn’t even cross their minds to combine the logarithms using their logarithm laws. They simply want to “cross off the logs” because there are logs on both sides. Does anyone else have this problem?


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I originally wrote this Tuesday, but failed to actually get it posted:

The principal brought us in and gave us our teaching assignments today. As I outlined yesterday, I have 4 preps. Two of the ladies I work with also have four preps. One of these ladies is out on maternity leave right, but the other one was there giving local finals with me today. I could tell by body language and other comments that she was not happy. I called a meeting this afternoon for everyone except my department chair to have an open conversations about our worries and concerns.

The meeting was really productive. My department chair has openly told us that he is willing to listen to us and consider changes. Rather than just go to him and complain we decided to enter as a united front and we drafted up schedules that would eliminate the need for 4 preps for anyone. We also incorporated the changes that he had wanted to make. We contacted him and have a meeting scheduled for either tomorrow afternoon or Thursday morning.

Regardless of how this all turns out the most important thing that may come out of this is that we came together as a department and truly collaborated. We are a small department (of seven), but we don’t work together all that well. There are a couple pods of three that work really well with one that kind of floats between the two groups. This scheduling issue though has caused us to pull together and work for the greater good of the school. And, at the end of the day, isn’t that what it should really be all about?