Not Everything is Fancy

I got an email from a reader the other day.  In her email she said “…but I bet everything is always cute and your classroom always looks perfect.”


Not even close.

My room is generally clean.  My rule is kids can eat in class as long as it’s not a disruption and the room is clean.  So, I NEVER have trash on my floor or anything like that, because my kids want to eat.  My desk is usually cleaned off.  That’s only because I don’t collect much work and keep things in folders.  HOWEVER, things aren’t always cute.

Real teaching isn’t always clean and cute and blog worthy.  Not even close.  I like when things are typed in cute fonts or have a nice border, but I have three preps at a new school.  I don’t have time for that mess everyday!  My goal is student learning.

I used these stations the other day.  Sharpie and computer paper.  I wrote the answers in pencil on the back.  They worked great and I’m going to use them again next year.

not everything has to be perfect - keeping perspective in your classroom

Or how about these stations I made from cut up worksheets?  I went fancy ya’ll and busted out the colored paper.

not everything has to be perfect - keeping perspective in your classroom

I made a trashketball game for multi-step equations (variables on one side) for this week.  I didn’t even bother typing it.  It’ll work out fine.  I have a post on how to play trashketball.

Multi-Step Equations Trashketball Game

Yeah, I have a blog and sell on TpT.  My classroom doesn’t always look fancy like it does in pictures.  Don’t sell yourself short if you do lots of things in your classroom that aren’t “pinterest worthy”.  First, no one is perfect all the time.  Second, um, people only share their good days.  No one wants to share the crappy stuff.

Are your kids learning?  Are you doing a decent job at keeping the mound of paperwork tamed?  That’s what matters.  Don’t compare your “normal” to someone else’s best.

11 Tips for Teaching Geometry Proofs

I've been wanting to write a post called "How I Teach... Geometry Proofs" for a long, long time.  I've written several drafts, but it always seemed like a jumbled mess.  So, I thought it lent itself better to a list.  So for those of you that faithfully read my "How I Teach..." posts, this one's for you!

Need help teaching high school geometry proofs?  These tips and activities will help students understand how to write proofs and will keep them engaged!

Scaffold, scaffold, scaffold.  When I first start showing my students proofs, I ALWAYS do two-column proofs with the statements completely filled in; I only make my students supply the reasons.  As we progress through the semester, I start leaving blanks and have my students start supplying some of the statements too.  For on level geometry, I stop there.  For honors geometry, I start leaving all of the statements and reasons blank, but give blanks so my students know how many steps are typically needed.  Then, (depending on the students) I have them write proofs from scratch with no guidance.

Phrase everything as a question. 
As you talk through a proof with students, try to phrase everything as a question.  I’ve found that this helps students develop an internal dialogue.  Questions that I ask a million times a day:
  • “What kind of angles are these?”
  • “What do we know about linear pairs?”
  • “What postulate allows us to add angle measures?”
  • “How do you know?”

Make students keep a Proof Reasons List.  Some years I have done this, and some years I haven't.  It helps SO much.  I have students list the reasons and I expect them to write off to the side something that will help them remember when to use it.  Sometimes, I have even given students a couple extra points for making flashcards out of their proof reasons.
11 Tips for Teaching Geometry Proofs - make a proof reasons sheet

Do activities with proofs.  Kids think proofs are boring.  Make it bearable by doing activities.  My favorites are using my proofs task cards to do speed mathing or stations or doing proof cut out activities.  I have a post about teaching with proof cut out activities too.

Always fill in the given information first.
  I can't tell you how many times I've seen kids working on proofs and get stuck on a step when the information is given.  In fact, when I work proofs on the board, I fill in the given information in black, and then complete the rest of the proof in another color.  When I do this, I'm trying to help students visually see the given information as separate from the rest of the proof.

11 Tips for Teaching Geometry Proofs

Let students abbreviate.  Some proofs are longgg.  I try to let students abbreviate when it makes sense.  I allow my students to abbreviate the same way I do in class.  For instance, I let them write "<s" instead of "angles".  I do NOT allow my students to abbreviate substitution, because it looks too much like subtraction.

Have students write out theorems.  My first couple years of teaching geometry, I only had students reference the theorem names when writing proofs.  Proofs seemed so abstract to them and they had no idea what the theorems actually said.  Now, I have students write out what the theorem actually says (where feasible).  My students may not know the exact name of every theorem in the textbook, but they know what they mean, which is way more important.  Along with the abbreviation, a typical parallel lines proof could look like the proof below.

11 Tips for Teaching Geometry Proofs

Highlight pairs of parallel lines.
  Some of my students have so much trouble visualizing!  Highlighting helps the pairs of lines stand out.

When using the Substitution Property or Transitive Property, write the line numbers of the statements you are using.  Students often have a hard time seeing how everything fits together when they are looking at a completed proof.  In the proof below, the reason for step 4 is the Transitive Property.  I have also written on the line (1,3) because steps 1 and 3 are used.

11 Tips for Teaching Geometry Proofs

Circle words that have definitions.  I often find myself circling words like complementary and supplementary to show kids the definitions within the proofs.  For instance, in the proof below, I would circle supplementary and 180 so that kids would see that they go together.  I often draw an arrow to the blank that supports the definition.

11 Tips for Teaching Geometry Proofs

Require that students mark the diagrams.  I make my students mark the diagram for every proof, no matter how short.  They should mark the proof as they go through it, so it should be very marked up when they are done.  If information is given in the diagram, I even tell them to trace over it with their pencil.  Sometimes completed proofs look messy.  I don't care.

11 Tips for Teaching Geometry Proofs

Do you have any tips for helping students write proofs?  Leave them in the comments!

Properties of Real Numbers Foldable

I taught a lesson in Algebra 1 about the properties of real numbers.  It actually wasn’t included in our standards, which I thought was a little weird.  Teaching solving equations without mentioning the symmetric property or teaching factoring without the associative property of multiplication seemed not quite right.

I created this simple hamburger book for the properties.  Students followed along on the front and filled in the properties.  Inside, there are examples for practice.

Properties of Real Numbers Foldable for algebra interactive notebooks

Properties of Real Numbers Foldable for algebra interactive notebooks

Distributive Property INB Pages

In Algebra 1, we just finished a unit on rational numbers.  The first four lessons were adding rational numbers (basically adding integers from pre-algebra, except fractions were thrown in), subtracting rational numbers, multiplying rational numbers, and dividing rational numbers.  Yeah, it was as boring as it sounds.  The kids needed the review, but man, it was rough for me.  I am totally not cut out for teaching that stuff (and I kind of sucked at it).

Anyway, at the end of the unit, we learned the distributive property.  I created this foldable pulling ideas from several different places.  It’s nothing fancy, but I like the way it turned out.

My students thought the baby example was stupid.  I like it so they can just deal with it.  I’m still going to use it next year :)

Distributive Property Foldable for Algebra 1 Interactive Notebooks |

Distributive Property Foldable for Algebra 1 Interactive Notebooks |

Color-coding the combining like terms example helped so much.  I liked color-coding before, but I’m LOVING it with my algebra kids.  It helps them so much.  I always try to remember to use the little arrows when showing the distributive property.  My students have started calling it “the rainbow”.

Distributive Property Pages for Algebra 1 Interactive Notebooks |

On the next page, I had the kids put this page from Mrs. Hester as practice of combining like terms and the distributive property.  I didn’t make any changes from the page she shared.  I loved the way it turned out.  My kids nicknamed the combo meals things like “The Hungry Man” and “Hope That’s Not All for You”.  Also, I thought the last question was pretty tricky, but my kids didn’t struggle with it at all.  I guess when there’s food involved, kids are more motivated!

The day after this lesson, I used the Simplifying Expressions Pyramid Sum Puzzle from All Things Algebra.  It was a struggle for my kids, but it was a good struggle.  They had to get every problem correct for the pyramid to work out.  They couldn't just skip a problem because it was hard.  They also made my room pretty.  I'm still working on covering up as much of the paneling as I can!

Distributive Property Pyramid Sum Puzzle
I plan to use these inb pages again next year and won’t make any changes to them!

15+ Math Games to Keep Students Engaged

This post contains affiliate links.

I like to use games to review skills because they’re SO much better than worksheets.  Kids whine about worksheets, but put those same problems in a game and suddenly the whining disappears.  I thought I’d share a list of awesome math games.

I love these math games for middle and high school students! They are great for small groups or whole class activities. It's so nice to be able to find free teaching ideas like these.

For the purposes of this post, I’m defining a game as having a winner and a loser.  I know there are lots of fun activities and “games” out there that don’t have winners, but that’s a different post for a different day :)

Math Games to Keep Students Engaged

Trashketball - So if you haven’t read my post about Trashketball, you need to.  It’s pretty much the BEST review game I’ve ever played - as a teacher or as a student.  I have former students that are now in college STILL talking about this game.  It gets kids to do lots of practice problems and involves throwing things.  Need I say more?

Which is Largest? - Which is Largest? is a newer game that I’ve created.  Students get a group of problems and they put the answers in order from greatest to least.  You can totally ham it up game show style.  I have a microphone that I use when I play this game.  #NoShame  One of the things that I like is that students get practice ordering numbers on the number line while also practicing another skill.  For Pre-Algebra and Algebra 1 students, this practice is SO necessary!  This can become more challenging if answers are fractions, decimals, and integers.

Old Math Guy - Free to Discover has a whole line of games called Old Math Guy.  They are very similar to Old Maid and get students to practice math skills in order to match the cards.  She posted on her blog about how she used this game to motivate inner-city kids as a math interventionist.  An added bonus: the drawings of the Old Math Guy are pretty funny.

Dang it! - Jameson from Lessons with Coffee created a game called Dang it!, which is similar to Zap!  This particular game practices converting fractions, decimals, and percents, but this idea could be used to practice various topics.  

I love these math games for middle and high school students! They are great for small groups or whole class activities. It's so nice to be able to find free teaching ideas like these.

Grudgeball - Grudgeball is a twist on Jeopardy.  Basically, students can steal points from other teams in order to win.  The nice twist on this game is that the team with the “smart” kids isn’t always going to win!

Bingo - Yes, I’m including bingo on this list.  Bingo played the traditional way is kind of lame.  It’s overdone and let’s be real: kids aren’t very excited to play it.  HOWEVER, Scaffolded Math and Science has a cool twist to this game.  This solving equations bingo game makes bingo un-lame.  There are spinners where kids make their own equations, then they color the corresponding answer on their bingo card.  I also like that this can be played individually or in small groups.  I think small groups makes this much more engaging than whole class bingo, because students can work at their own pace...and I always liked playing with spinners as a student.

Tic Tac Toe - Students can use task cards to play tic tac toe.  If they get their question correct, they can take their turn.  If they are incorrect, they lose their turn.  Not super special, but if you play it on whiteboards, students are way more excited.

Connect Four - You can play Connect Four using task cards.  Students “draw” a task card, complete the problem on the card, then take their turn.  If you want to play with your whole class and don’t have enough sets of games, then the Connect Four games by Alex O’Connor the Middle School Math Man may be a good option.  He has paper versions of the game for various middle school math skills.  Amazon has some inexpensive Connect Four games if you want to play the real thing.
“I Have… Who Has…” - Typically, “I Have…, Who Has…” doesn’t have a winner.  “I Have…, Who Has…” is really just a set of cards like dominos, where students link the cards together.  However, I never play it that way.  I always group my students into three or four teams and give them a deck of cards.  Then I have them race to see which team can put them in order fastest.  Another version of this is to set a timer and see which team got the furthest in the set amount of time.

Taboo - Taboo could be so much fun to practice vocabulary!  It would take quite a bit of prep work to create, but is something that could be re-used year after year.  There are a couple sets of cards already out there on The Roots of the Equation and Mr. Collins Mathematics Blog.

Conquest - Conquest is similar to Risk.  In order to attack their opponent, students must answer math questions.  Correct answers let them advance on the map, while incorrect answers lose the battle.

Pictionary - Pictionary is a great way to practice graphing!  Students could be given equations on cards, then have to graph it.  Students could also be given characteristics of graphs and the kids guessing could have to shout out the equation.  Scaffolded Math and Science has an interesting twist on Pictionary for helping kids practice graphing absolute value, radical, and quadratic functions.

Kahoot! - Have you played Kahoot?  This is the one game on my list that does require each student to have some sort of technology (phone, ipad, laptop, etc).  Kahoot! is a review game where kids race against each other to answer multiple choice questions.  It’s super fun, but I wouldn’t recommend it for classes with a wide variety of ability levels.  Check out my tutorial for Kahoot!

Battleship - I think everyone has played Battleship at least once in their childhood.  All Things Algebra has a fun twist on Battleship that gets students to practice different math skills. This game has students practice factoring.  In this game, students factor quadratics in order to sink their opponent's battleships.

Poker Chip Game - This game is super low prep, but does require poker chips.  Students answer multiple choice questions and have to “bet” if they are right or not.  Students are practicing, and you also get to see their confidence level with the material.  This game starts lots of good conversations and also helps kids practice answering multiple choice questions. These inexpensive Poker Chipswould be perfect to play with.  Since they're inexpensive, you wouldn't have to worry about them getting lost.

Hot Seat - In this game, students sit in rows and the first person in each row is in the "hot seat".  The person in the hot seat has the opportunity to earn the most points for their team.  You can find more details and a scientific notation game here.

What games do you like to play in your class?

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Real Numbers and Functions INB Pages

This is part three of the interactive notebook pages for my first unit in Algebra 1.  You may want to take a look at part one and part two.

Day 6 - Real Numbers

This is another foldable by Lisa Davenport.  I liked the foldable, but my kids had so much trouble with this!  It stressed them out.  They had a hard time understanding the idea of subsets.  I used Algebra 1 friendly language, but it was a stretch for them.  Once they understood integer and rational number, I just kind of called it good.  Honestly, I think that’s ok for now.  I’ll have these kids again for Geometry and Algebra 2, so we can continue to work on this as they expand their math understanding.

Sets of Real Numbers Foldable

I created this foldable because the textbook had lots of little vocabulary things all thrown into one section.  It felt kind of like a hodgepodge, so I just went with it.  My students had a hard time with the first page, but they hung with me.  My Algebra 1 group doesn’t whine (yet) and I really like that about them.  

Sets of Real Numbers Foldable Notes for Interactive Notebooks

Sets of Real Numbers Foldable Notes for Interactive Notebooks

My students are starting to call these types of foldable “hamburger books”.  In elementary school, lots of teachers talking about folding paper “like a hamburger” or “like a hotdog”.  We laughed about it one day in class and now the name has stuck.

Day 7 - Function Patterns

This day was a super basic introduction to function patterns.  The top of the page just had some vocabulary and the accordion foldable had examples.  I left a giant space for students to write their own notes as we talked about functions.

Functions and Writing Function Rules Interactive Notebook Page

Functions and Writing Function Rules Interactive Notebook Page
This was the last page for this unit.  It’s mostly vocabulary.  I just wanted to get them used to the vocabulary and looking at tables and graphs.  We color-coded everything.

Functions and Writing Function Rules Interactive Notebook Page
After this we had another quiz, reviewed, then had a test.

Order of Operations and Algebraic Expressions INB Pages

This is part two of the interactive notebook pages for my first unit in Algebra 1.  You can find part one here.

Day 3 - Order of Operations

In our textbook, order of operations and evaluating algebraic expressions are intertwined into one section.  I thought that was a little much, so I taught them separately.  I also had students write PEMDAS on the side of the page.  I debated about teaching PEMDAS vs. GEMS, but my students seemed to have a pretty good grasp on grouping symbols and the A/S and M/D relationships.  Thank you middle school teacher!

These interactive notebook notes for order of operations and evaluating algebraic expressions are perfect for algebra or pre-algebra students.  The foldable has lots of examples too.  It will work for middle school or high school.

My foldable has six examples (two under each flap).  I had students complete the foldable with me, and then complete the handwritten examples with a partner.  Then, they made up their own example, and traded notebooks with a neighbor.  They completed their neighbor’s example and traded back.  When they got their notebooks back, they had to check their neighbor’s work.  I came up with this idea during the lesson and thought it was a constructive way to kill extra time, even though it was kind of lame.  However, the kids kind of liked it.  I let them “grade” their neighbor’s work in red pen.  It’s the little things, I guess…

Order of Operations INB Page for Algebra 1

Day 4 - Evaluating Algebraic Expressions

On this page, I used my foldable for evaluating algebraic expressions.  Under each flap are two examples.  Students worked the example, and then on the flap, they were supposed to write hints to themselves.  I made them use parentheses every time they substituted for a variable.  We didn’t do very much with negatives (but we will), however, I want to get them into a good habit.  I also don’t say “plug in”.  It’s not correct mathematical vocabulary.  I always model by saying “substitute” instead.  

These interactive notebook notes for order of operations and evaluating algebraic expressions are perfect for algebra or pre-algebra students.  The foldable has lots of examples too.  It will work for middle school or high school.

These interactive notebook notes for order of operations and evaluating algebraic expressions are perfect for algebra or pre-algebra students.  The foldable has lots of examples too.  It will work for middle school or high school.

On the facing page, we did more examples.  I wasn’t planning to, but once I finished the lesson in first period, I felt like I needed an example page since order of operations had one.  I guess I was trying to be fair?  I made the problems up on the fly and the page looks crummy.  My students didn’t really need the extra practice either.  They did a partner worksheet that was sufficient. 

Day 5 - Quiz

This day I reviewed with them quickly when they got to class, then I had them take a quiz and let them use their notebooks.  They were shocked that it was open note.  However, I’m trying to let them see that their notebooks are useful and it’s important to keep them neat and up-to-date.  I think I will do this periodically.

These interactive notebook notes for order of operations and evaluating algebraic expressions are perfect for algebra or pre-algebra students.  The foldable has lots of examples too.  It will work for middle school or high school.

I’ll post part three with the end of my unit soon!

Translating Words to Expressions INB Pages

My Algebra 1 kids are really taking to interactive notebooks.  They’re doing great and are so quick at getting pages glued in.  I have a great group in Algebra 1 this year.

I’m going to share my Algebra 1 notebook pages in the same format that I shared my Geometry pages.  I’m going to sort of outline the way I taught the unit.  My students didn’t add to their notebooks everyday, but they did most days.

Day 1 - Translating Words to Algebraic Expressions

The first page we created had vocabulary at the top.  We highlighted the words as we talked about them.  It annoys me when students try to “solve” expressions, so I harped on the difference between expressions and equations a little bit.  Then, we completed this foldable by Lisa Davenport.  I had kids call out examples and I gave some as well.  

Translating Words to Algebraic Expressions INB Page for Algebra

After that, I had my students complete this coloring sheet from Math=Love.  A couple of the phrases were tricky for my kids, so I gave periodic hints to the class as I walked around.

Translating Words to Algebraic Expressions INB Page for Algebra

I didn’t have them glue the sheet down all the way.  They only glued the top, so that it is like a giant tab.  Under the sheet, I had them write out a table and we practiced writing an equation from the table.  This was hard some some kids.

Translating Words to Algebraic Expressions INB Page for Algebra

Day 2 - Translating Words to Algebraic Expressions Practice

This was the first Friday of school, so I had my students practice from the first lesson.  We went over homework, students completed a joke worksheet, and then finished their weekend “homework” assignment in class.

I’ll post more later with the rest of the unit!

First Day of School 2016

This year, I didn’t love my first day of school.  I had a plan, it went fine.  However, since I took a year off, all day I felt like I lost my mojo.  There wasn’t any one thing that I could put my finger on either.  I just felt like I was awkward all day.

I teach five classes.  I have two one-level Algebra 1 classes, one on-level Geometry class, and two on-level Algebra 2 classes.  The Algebra 2 classes were a little bit of a last minute surprise for me!  My largest class has 16 and my smallest class has 6 (!).  

I did almost the exact same first day with all three of my preps.  First, I had students come in and find their seats from a seating chart that was taped to the whiteboard.  Then, there were directions projected onto the board that instructed them to start working on the worksheet that was on their desks.  I used my worksheet that has students use mathematical expressions to tell about themselves.

After a few minutes, I took roll.  Then, I went through a very unimaginative powerpoint with a few things about myself and hitting the highlights of my syllabus.  Then, I passed out textbooks.  All of this was very boring.

After that, I has students color the Back to School Pennant from Scaffolded Math and Science.  That was more fun than my boring powerpoint.  It looks super cute in my room and helps hide my ugly paneling.  Don't you just love it?

Back to School Pennant for the First Day of School

I wish I would have done something more interesting on the first day.  I thought about using memes for the powerpoint and doing a short lesson on the golden ratio, but I was just too tired when it came down to it.  Being a working mom is much harder and more tiring than it looks!  I’ve been heading to bed at 8 every night when my son goes to bed!

So, with the first day over with, I will totally use the worksheet and the pennant again, but I need something more creative for the rest of the class period.