Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Scheduling a Year of Math Challenges in About an Hour!

       This past year I had the idea to have an extra Google Classroom that I called my Challenge Classsroom.  This way, I had information in one place for all of my students that were interested.  The code was on a poster at the back of my room.   I posted fun challenges that I found throughout the year that kids could work on.  I still continued to post a "Challenge Problem of the Week" on paper at the back of my classroom....well, it was supposed to be a problem of the week.  Unfortunately, if I'm honest, it was a problem of the week until I started to forget some weeks.  By the end of the year, it may have been more like a problem of the month.   Good intentions foiled again!

       But can I tell you how excited I am?  I already have my Google Challenge Classroom set up for next year.   The Challenge Problem of the Week is already scheduled for August through May.  So I can't forget!  I can still change it or add to it...but just knowing that it is already done is so great!   In addition, I have some "Any Time, Any Topic" challenges that will always be available to kids.  My final category of challenges that is already set up in my Challenge Classroom is one that I call -"Wonder Math".  Basically, I search up pictures that are interesting and likely to make kids wonder about stuff that may be math-related (for example, a pool filled with jello; a world-record sized pie; a life-size gingerbread house) and just ask the questions "What does this make you wonder about?  How could math help you answer your questions?"    There are a few reasons that I love using Google Classroom to manage my challenge work for my classroom.

1.  I love being able to schedule everything out.  I want to have a problem of the week, but honestly as the year gets going this is sometimes one of the things that gets forgotten about.  Now I was able to devote a block of time to get it done (and it took me under an hour since I had all the challenges ready to go)!

2.  I love the flexibility of being able to share all kinds of stuff that gets me excited about math.  I'm always finding some news article, website, video or something else that reminds me of something we're doing at school.  Through Google Classroom, it's so easy to share all of these kinds of things.

3.  I like being able to use topics to organize the different types of challenges.  This way I can have problem of the weeks, plus other types of challenges all housed in one place.

4.  I can have one place to house all of my challenges for every class.  All I have to do is post the code to join and every kid that wants access can have it.  It even allows kids that I have in math club, but that I may not have in class, to join in the challenges.

5.  At the end of the year, I will have everything in one place.  It will be so easy to reuse the posts that I really like and update with new ones.

6.  It gives me a way to provide lots of options, which give kids so many different choices.  Hopefully they will be excited about at least some of the possibilities. (And it is one more answer to the eternal "Jill is bored in your class" line that we all may have heard).

Here is a video where I walk you through how I set up my challenge classroom.  If you're interested in the resource that I used for all of my weekly challenges, I used these Year of Weekly Challenges.

Here are some other great sources for challenge problems:
Open Middle
7th Grade Challenging Math
Math Counts (some stuff is paid, but they have lots of free stuff as well)
Figure This

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Favorite Technology Part 2: Quizizz

     For part 2 of my favorite technology I want to focus on Quizizz.  Quizizz is a little like Kahoot, but there are some differences.  I can't really say that I like Quizizz or Kahoot better, but I find they each have uses that they are best suited for.

       Just in case you're not familiar with either Quizizz or Kahoot, the basic idea is that you create multiple choice questions.  Students answer them and get instant feedback after each question about whether their answer is correct.

      Here are some of the things that I like about Quizizz.

1.  Quizizz is self-paced.  If I want my kids to practice a few questions getting feedback along the way, Quizizz is the way to go.  Students go at their own pace, moving on to the next question as they finish.   Some of my kids that are slower workers find Kahoot to be frustrating, because they are always feeling rushed to keep up with classroom.

This is the student view during a Quizizz.  The top shows the difference between a multiple choice and a multiple mark question.  At the bottom you can see the response for a correct or incorrect answer.
2.  Students see the question on their own screen, rather than on the SmartBoard.  This one might seem minor, but when you have students looking at a graph, table or other image, this can be much easier when it is closer to them. 

3.  You have a lot of flexibility with how much time you give to students.    Quizizz allows longer times.  You can choose to give students any from 5 seconds up to 15 minutes.   This is less stressful for my slower workers.  It also allows for me to ask more in-depth questions that a fast paced Kahoot doesn't allow for.

4.  Easy to combine questions from different quizzes.  Quizizz has the option to add questions from different quizzes with the click of a button.  I LOVE this feature.  Super convenient, and really helps me get the Quizizz just how I like it.

5.  You can assign these as homework or play them live.  I love that you have options.  Honestly, this is usually what helps me decide if I want to use Quizizz or Kahoot.  If I want to play live, I usually go with Kahoot.  With Kahoot, all the kids are doing the same question at the same time.   So I really like Kahoot if I want to be teaching along the way, based on what questions kids are missing.  If I'm really wanting to give kids a chance to work independently, and then decide what direction my teaching needs to go, then I like to use Quizizz.  That way, I can look over the results when everyone finishes.  I really like assigning a Quizizz as homework, as students can do it over and over.  Great opportunity to practice!

6.  It's quiet.  I'll admit it...I love Kahoot, and the kids love Kahoot, but there are days that I just don't have the energy to deal with the noise.  Or when the room next door is taking a test or giving presentations and I need to be quiet.  And then, it's Quizizz to the rescue.  You can use the same types of questions, but it does make for a much quieter classroom.

7.  Great data that is easily accessible as kids play, and when everyone finishes.    I love both views of the Quizizz data while kids are working on it.  You can toggle between two different views:  the first view shows the overall percent of questions correct.  The other view is by question.  I really love the question view, because it really allows me to focus my teaching on the problem areas.
       Then once everyone finishes, there is even more data available.  One of the pieces of data that I really love at the end of the Quizizz is the part that shows the average time spent on a question.  This has led to some good conversations in my room about how rushing and not reading carefully can lead us to poor results.

The top picture shows the question view during the game.  It's nice to be able to see as you go which question students are struggling with.  There is also a student view during the just have to be careful about displaying results with student names.   The bottom picture shows the overview given after the Quizizz is over.  I love that you can see time spent on questions, as well as percent that got it correct.

8.  You have the option to either have multiple choice or multiple mark questions.  I know on our district and state tests, we see a lot of multiple mark questions.  These are so hard for kids, so the chance to practice them is terrific!

If you haven't tried Quizizz yet, maybe it's time to give it a try!

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Favorite Techology Part 1: Desmos Teaching Activites

         I'm going to spend a few blog posts talking about some of my favorite technology sites and applications to use in my classroom, and my favorite features of each.

       Usually, I'm a "save the best for last" kind of gal, but for this I've decided to dive in with my favorite....Desmos!  I have written before about how much I love Desmos, but today I want to tell you about a few of my favorite features (and a little bit about how to use them!).

     There are tons of cool activities that have already been created to use on Desmos.  If you've never tried any, poke around and find one to try.  My favorites are MarblesSlides and Inequalities on the Number Line, but there are tons of great ones to pick from!

     Here are a few reasons that I love creating my own Desmos teaching activities:

1.  One of the things that I love about Desmos activities that I create myself is all of the different options that I have for what I can add to them.  Here is what you can add to your Desmos activities:
  • graph
  • table
  • sketch
  • media (picture or video)
  • note  (you give information to students)
  • input  (students input text or math equations)
  • choice questions (choose between multiple choice, multiple mark, or explanation)
  • card sort or marble slides activity
You can even combine more than one of these things on to a single screen.  For example, you could have a graph on the screen and an input box where students have to respond to a question about the graph.  

2.  Another thing that I love is that I can see all of my students work on one screen.  I can quickly see who has finished which slides.  I can click on a student's slide to get a closer view of their work.  This really allows me to give students real-time feedback!  Having everyone's answers in one place also allows for terrific use of student work to guide discussion, as I can quickly scroll through answers to find ones that I want to highlight in class.

Notice that Brahmagupta has made a mistake on the purple line.  This makes is so easy to find mistakes and talk with students.

3.  My class really likes to have me use the "Anonymize" feature, which assigns each student the name of a famous mathematician.  It's fun to hear, "Cool, I'm Katherine Johnson!" or to see kids looking up mathematicians to find out who they are.  I also like this feature because when I notice a problem, I can call out "Pythagoras, it looks like the second point on your graph is off.   Please double check it" and give kids feedback without embarrassing anyone.

4.  I like to set up my activities so that students get to see the answers of other students after they complete a slide.  I think it's really helpful for students to see what other classmates were thinking, and how they justified their thinking.

5.  Another feature that I really love about Desmos is the fact that you can carry forward a graph from one screen to another and kids could continue to work on a graph from one screen to another. 

If you're ready to create your own Desmos activity, go to and choose  choose "Custom" on the menu on the left side of the page.  Then click "New Activity" in the upper right hand corner.    Then click "New Activity" in the upper right hand corner of the next screen.

This short video should give you some ideas of how to add things to your Desmos activity.

Good luck, and I hope you love creating these activities as much as I do!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Ideas to Create Your Own Escape Room Puzzles

     In my last post, I talked about the huge multi-day escape room activity I was doing to review for state assessments.  I've done two days so far, and it has really been going great!   If you're considering designing your own escape room style activity, here are a few tips to consider.

math escape room

1.  Start with the skills.  As with anything in education, you've got to start with a clear idea of what skills you want students to practice.  Otherwise it's easy to get lost in planning fun puzzles and lose track of what's really important.  For my escape room activity, I started with a list of the top eight skills that I most wanted my students to practice again before state assessments.  From there, I knew that I wanted one puzzle to go with each topic.

2.  Try using a worksheet/activity that you already have.   Some of my puzzles were fancier, but some of them were pretty simple.  Some of the simplest puzzles were simply a list of problems from a pre-existing worksheet, and an answer bank.  When you're planning an escape room activity, there are all sorts of codes you can have: letters, numbers, directions, colors, and shapes are the first that come to mind.  So when you put down your answer bank, just attach a letter (or number or color) to each answer and there you have it!  Students solve the problems and use the answer bank to find the correct "code".

3.  Make clues that force students to do all of the problems you want them to do, not just some of them.  As I was creating clues, I started off with clues like "The answer to problem 2 plus twice the answer of problem 5".  If all of your clues are like this, students will only complete the problems that they have to in order to get the code.  If you want them to complete all of the problems, consider having at least one clue that forces them to look at all the answers, such as "the difference of the largest and smallest answer".

4.  Get creative and add some fun and interest to the puzzle with fake generators.  There are all sorts of cool sites that allow you to generate fake text messages, tickets, receipts, etc....    Simple things like these can add some fun to your escape room activity.  Here are a few links to get you started:
                                     Fake Text Messages
                                     Fake Concert Ticket Generator
                                     Fake Headline Generator
                                     Fake Receipt Generator
escape room math review

5.  Get creative with how you let students know the correct order of the answers in the code.  I tried to vary this to keep my students thinking.  Here are some things I tried:

  • Used a colored border at the top of the paper.  Each problem had a colored dot next to it.  Students had to match the order of the border to get the answers in order.  
  • Put a different letter with each problem, and then give a clue how to rearrange those letters to spell a word.  When I tried this, I had a puzzle about surface area.  The boxes held the letters A-N-I-S-T.  Somewhere else on the page were the words, "A very good person".  Students were supposed to come up with the word saint.
  • Put a different word with each problem, that spell out a common phrase.  Students organize the answers according to the phrase.  One of my puzzles had four sets of problems, and each set of problems would leave students with one number.  The boxes were labeled with these words: ALLIGATOR LATER YOU SEE.  Students had to reorder the numbers to make the clue say SEE YOU LATER ALLIGATOR, and this gave them the 4-digit code.
  • Use a visual clue.  One of my clues, I simply had a different number of dots on each section.  Students were supposed to put them in order from one dot to five to find the correct code. 
Good luck helping your students to escape the classroom!

Thursday, March 22, 2018

I'm So Excited to Review for State Testing....

....said no teacher ever.

Except this year.

Because I am.

I'm planning a 3 day study session for state testing.  I've mapped out the most important topics to review to help my kids show what they know.

But the awesome part is I'm planning to do it Escape Room style, so I think it will be awesome!

math escape room

This will for sure be the biggest Breakout I've ever attempted but I think it will fine.  I'm going to have 8 boxes, but each with just one lock.  Each box will be focused on a different topic:  circles, surface area, factoring/distributive property, solving equations, percents, scale drawing, statistics, proportional relationships and one general review.

math review escape room

I'm going to put a link to a review video on each puzzle so the kids can watch a quick review if they need help.  The boxes can be solved in any order.  As teams break in to a box, they will find a piece of one final puzzle and some money.

The whole point of the Breakout will be to collect as much money as possible.  At the end of the Breakout, we will have an auction where teams can bid on items to buy.

One of the other things that I'm really excited about is that teams will also be able to earn extra money for the auction by exhibiting good teamwork and collaboration.  I based this on the idea of participation quizzes from Mathematical Mindsets by Jo Boaler.  I adapted the rubric from the book to this situation, and went over these expectations before we began.  Click below to download what I used with my class as I introduced this activity.  I was REALLY pleased with how this helped.  I talked specifically with my classes about the fact that I didn't want them to "divide and conquer" the puzzles, but to work together.  I only had groups in one class that split up....most groups worked together as I asked them to!

Teams that finish all of the boxes can earn additional money by completing the final puzzle, which they get the pieces to when they break in to all of the boxes.

At first I thought I was going to plan all of the puzzles...but then I realized that I could use stuff that I already have.  So I've created a few puzzles from scratch, but for several of them, I've just used existing worksheets or puzzles and found a way to turn them into an escape room style puzzle. 

escape room encourages collaboration

I used these puzzles as several of the games:
 Graveyard Scale Drawing Scavenger Hunt
Percent of a Number Warm Up Activity
7th Grade Review Puzzles

Some of these were ready to go as puzzles.  Some of them needed some minor adjustments to make into a puzzle.  I'll write another post about how I made some minor adjustments to turn things I had into a puzzle.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Oh, how I love Basketball in March!

      I sit on my couch, watching the last game of what has been an insane weekend of basketball.  I am a college basketball fanatic, and since Thursday I have watched a LOT of basketball.  What a weekend of basketball it has been....I've watched a #1 finally lose to a #16.  I've seen buzzer beaters, 20 point comebacks and 20 point losses by really good teams.

     And as I watch all of this, one of the things that I keep thinking is....I can't wait to talk to the kids about this!  We did a fun simulation of the first round of the tournament, so I think they will get a kick out of the unexpected things that have happened in March 2018.

     The simulation was super easy to set up, and only took about 10 minutes in class.  Plus it was a great way to introduce the idea of  simulations to my class the week before spring break when it was hard to get them to care about anything!

     I based it all on these statistics:

         I used a variety of materials to create simulations for each of the games.  Here was what I used:
  • 1 vs. 16--bag of a bunch of colored blocks with just one white block to represent the 16.
  • 2 vs. 15--bag of 19 red blocks and 1 blue block to represent the 15.
  • 3 vs. 14--rolled a 6-sided die with 5 sides for the 3 and 1 side for the 14
  • 4 vs. 13--rolled a 10-sided die with 8 sides for the 4 and 2 sides for the 13
  • 5 vs. 12--rolled a 6-sided die with 4 sides for 5 and 2 sides for the 12
  • 6 vs. 11--spun a spinner with 5 spaces for 6 and 3 spaces for the 11
  • 7 vs. 10--spun a spinner with 3 spaces for the 7 and 2 spaces for the 10
  • 8 vs. 9--flipped a coin

Then the kids filled out the form below, and then we simulated the entire first round.  We went through each of the trials listed above 4 times, and I made it clear that students had to have them in the correct order.  I made everyone stand up, and as soon as their bracket was no longer perfect, they had to sit down. In every single hour, every kid was sitting down by the time we got to the 4-13 games!  Click on the picture below to download this form.

     This was really fun.  I know I'll do it again next year.  One thing I think I'll do differently next year is have the KIDS design how to test the simulation.  I will demonstrate how to pick your materials with one of the games, and then assign each table one game to decide how to simulate.  Since each table will only have to come up with 1 part of the simulation, I still think it will be fast.  But since the kids will have to make some decisions about how to set up the simulation, I think they will get more out of it.

     After we finished the simulation, I showed this short 3-minute video explaining the odds of getting a perfect bracket.  The professor in the video does a great job of explaining the math behind why a perfect bracket is so hard to get.   

Saturday, February 24, 2018

New Twist on Task Cards: "Be the Expert"

       I like task cards, but I feel like I'm always looking for some way to make them better....more exciting or fun....or something.  Well, I finally found what I was looking for.  For the moment, I'm calling this version "Be the Expert" task cards.

     It's a pretty simple twist on task cards, but for me it was just what I was looking for to take task cards to the next level.   I made the task cards with the idea that you would fold them in half, kind of making them into a tent.  On one side is the task card.  On the other side is the answer, along with space for students to work out the answer.


     Each student gets one card, and they keep that card for the entire activity.  Each student must work out the problem that they got on their card, and "be the expert" for that problem.  Students then walk around, partnering up with different students, and completing each other's problems.    As students try to work each other's problems, they can help each other through it.

Here are 4 things that I loved about doing task cards this way:
1.  It got kids moving.  This was an easy way to incorporate some movement in my class, as students moved around to change partners.
2.  It helped all kids feel successful, and be successful.  Each student was in charge of understanding one problem and being able to help others.  This gave my quiet students and struggling students a chance to gain confidence.
3.  It led to great discussions.  As I listened to student discussions, I was impressed at the quality of help that I heard them giving to each other.  They weren't just giving answers, but really helping each other figure out what went wrong when it was not correct.
4.  Easy way to make sure kids get instant feedback.  Students had the answers when needed, so they could monitor their own help was built in when they missed problems!

Tips if you plan to try this:
1.  Have some kind of "waiting place" for students that are waiting for a different partner.
2.  Make sure kids know that they can't work in the "waiting place".  The first time I did this my "waiting place" area kept moving around because kids would start working itthere!

     One of the great things about this idea for task cards is that you could do this with any task cards that you already have.....just print them on paper, write the answers on the back, and you're ready to go.  When I made mine, I decided to fold the task card like a tent (so the answer would be on the back) this left the inside available for some more questions.  I decided it would be a great place for an exit ticket!  If you're interested in some ready to go "Be the Expert" two-step equations task cards, click here to see them in my Teachers Pay Teacher store.