Monthly Archives: August 2014

My Automathography

I’m taking Justin Lanier’s smOOC called Math is Personal, and one of our first assignments is to write our “automathography”. So here’s mine. Enjoy!

Mary’s Automathography

I love math, but I didn’t fall in love with it until college. I was good at math in high school, but I was good at all my classes, so nothing stood out about math in particular. I definitely had a fear of getting the wrong answer in math class, and I was happy to just follow the procedures given to me by my teachers. At this point in my life, I don’t think I understood what mathematics actually was. I won the conference quiz bowl in math my senior year, and it was great to get that recognition, but I graduated high school thinking I would study chemistry in college.

I soon discovered that I did not enjoy working in the lab, but that I did enjoy my math courses, so I ended up majoring in math. I went to a huge university (40,000+ undergraduates), so my first two years of math classes consisted of lectures with 300 students. Despite this, I found myself completely inspired by the professors. I was enamored with how passionate and genuine they seemed. In other subjects, I felt like the professors and TAs were egotistical or arrogant. In contrast, everyone in the math department seemed friendly and easy going. I’ll always remember when one of my calculus professors introduced Euler’s identity. His voice wavered, and I thought he might even cry when he described how this one equation related the most important numbers in mathematics.

Even those first few years of college, I was still focused on answer-getting. This quickly changed when I started taking courses like Real Analysis and Modern Algebra. In these classes, I was finally challenged to think for myself. There were no recipes to follow, and it was completely up to me to decide how to prove or demonstrate something. It was both terrifying and liberating. Math became a creative endeavor for me, and I loved it. I truly came to understand and appreciate Georg Cantor’s quote: “The essence of mathematics is its freedom.”

Besides the creative aspect of math, I also thrived on its collaborative aspect. Getting to know the other students in my classes was so much fun, and struggling with them on math problems late into the night will always be one of my favorite college memories. I also always appreciated how there wasn’t a competitive atmosphere in math, compared with most of the science classes I took. Simply put, I learned so much from doing and talking math with my peers. I became more confident and began to embody the mathematical habits of mind.

In particular, I will never forget the group I worked with in Real Analysis. The professor assigned problems every class which were due the following class (this course required more of my time than any other), so the five of us would get together almost every day, sometimes for several hours, to struggle through them. We would meet in the student union in the evenings, staying later than everyone else and having conversations about math or maybe not about math. Before class, we would meet in the math library to share any last minute insights, often getting looks from others for being too loud. Naturally, a strong bond formed between the five of us. On weekends (or Thursdays, or whenever we could no longer stand to stare at our papers) we would go out and get drinks together.

The experiences I had in classes like Real Analysis really transformed my idea of math. I learned the value of productive struggle and collaboration. I learned how to be creative in math and make it my own. I really felt mathematically strong at the end of it all.

Fast forward to the present- five years after that Real Analysis class. I am now about to start my first-year teaching high school math. I hope I don’t suck.


Filed under culture, fun, productive struggle

So Excited!

Ahhhh! I am so excited to start teaching!!!!!

I just can’t contain my excitement right now, so I had to post something.

I am at school right now (can finally start moving into my classroom!), where I just finished a 3 hour district training on building classroom community. It was so great. Most of the new teachers in the district were there, and I always really appreciate connecting with people who are at the same place as me.

The training was well organized and enjoyable. I didn’t really learn anything new, but it was wonderful to be able to discuss ideas with colleagues and process everything I’ve been thinking about over the summer. It was put on by the district’s teacher mentors, who were incredibly welcoming and enthusiastic. One of the mentors was previously (until this year) a math teacher at the high school, and she is just so lovely and helpful to have as a resource.

There are actually FOUR new math teachers at the high school this year, and three of us were at the training, so it was awesome to connect with those guys as well. I feel like we’re already bonding, and after the training the three of us went upstairs to the math department, checked out each other’s rooms, and continued to talk about the upcoming school year. Then they even helped me move my computer, which was oddly set up on a table in right in front of the whiteboard, on to my desk and made sure everything was functioning. Really great people. I am truly looking forward to collaborating with them this year.

In fact, all of the staff and administration I’ve met so far have been great, and the district seems very welcoming and supportive. How did I get so lucky?

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Math. Just for the heck of it.

Here’s the visual for an excellent math problem by FiveTriangles that Dylan Kane introduced to the MTBoS. I had noticed some conversation about it on Twitter, so I thought I should give it a try. The prompt is: What proportion of area of the three congruent equilateral triangles is shaded?

I don’t want to give away any answers or methods, but I will say that this is a really nice problem. I did the things that were obvious to me at first, but then I got a little stuck. So then I got a bit flustered. “I have a math degree- this should take me ten seconds,” I irrationally thought to myself. I tried some stupid things that I knew weren’t going to help me, and after that I had to go take care of something else, so I left my pencil and paper on the table and didn’t think about those triangles again until later that day. When I returned to the problem, something suddenly clicked, and I was able to quickly move forward and solve the problem. Funny how that works.

It was super fun to do some math just for the heck of it. I should do more of that.

I would definitely recommend giving this one a try, but please, no spoilers! Don’t comment with your answer. Email me or tweet me if you want to exchange solutions.


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Exit Tickets and Group Work Norms

Ever experience kids packing up 5 minutes before the bell? I definitely did during student teaching, but half-way through, with support from my cooperating teacher and help from another math teacher, I decided to implement exit tickets. It definitely made a difference. Kids worked until the end of class when I handed out their exit ticket sheets and put the prompt up on the Smartboard. It was great. The other math teacher who did exit tickets used a weekly sheet with a space for each day’s answer, so dutifully followed her lead, but I didn’t really enjoy keeping track of the sheets for a whole week and it was a pain to pass them out at the end of each class. The kids complained that it took too long to get their sheets back so they didn’t have enough time to answer the question.

So anyway, this year I plan to just have a bunch of half-sheets of paper printed out for exit tickets. I am wasting more paper this way, which is a concern of mine, but it’ll have to do for now. On the back of the half-sheet there is a participation reflection. I’m  focusing on group work and creating healthy math culture in my classroom this year, so I want to remind the kids of our group work norms every day, and I want them to do some reflection on the day, hence the three questions on the back of the exit ticket.

I really like all of the norms I’ve decided to use, but unfortunately there are twelve of them, which is probably too many. I should try to shorten the list, but I don’t know which ones to give up. They’re all important to me!

Well, here’s the file with the exit ticket on the front and the reflection on the back. Nothing fancy, but check it out, and I’m interested in hearing your thoughts. Do you use exit tickets? How do you implement them, and what do you like about them? What classroom norms do you use? How do you get your students to think about your norms?

(I don’t have any word processing software on my computer, so I just use google docs for everything, but in the process of uploading my documents to scribd, the spacing gets a little weird, but you should still get the idea.)

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Filed under culture, formative assessment, group work

NYC trip and some thoughts on INBs

(Great acronyms in the title.)

I just got home from a fantastic four day visit with my sister in New York City. I live in a much smaller city myself, so I wasn’t sure what I would think of NYC, but I loved it! I loved all of the beautiful people, the amazing and delicious varieties of food, and the daily hustle and bustle. It was so much fun hanging out my sister and seeing where she lives and works. It was also my first time in the Big Apple, so of course I did all of the fun tourist stuff.

Central Park

Central Park

Brooklyn Bridge

Brooklyn Bridge

Statue of Lib

Statue of Lib

My sister and I also went to the Museum of Math, which I highly recommend. All of their displays are very interactive and let you experience and discover the math. They’re also super fun! We spent almost four hours there! Going with my sister was perfect because she has a great natural curiosity for math even though she went the finance and accounting route. She can solve all those fit-these-shapes-into-this-box and disconnect-this-metal-loop-from-this-other-metal-thing puzzles that I never have the mind for.

Of course the Math Museum has pi door handles.

Of course the Math Museum has pi door handles.

Overall, it was an awesome trip, but it’s so nice to be back home in spacious, natural, beautiful Wisconsin. #tmc14 took place over the same weekend, so while I was spending 24 hours each way on the train to and from NYC, I got to catch up via Twitter on all the excitement and mathematics happening in Oklahoma. Hoping to attend #tmc15 next summer!

So now that I’m home, I’m thinking about what sort of procedures I want in place this year in my classroom. I definitely want to do something with interactive notebooks (INBs), a popular topic in the MTBoS these days.

There are people with far more experience than me (which is zero) who write about INBs, so definitely check out Math=Love, Kalamity Kat, and Infinite Sums for great ideas and advice.

My reasoning for INBs is to help my students process information, organize their work, and have a resource that they can refer back to. Even when I student taught an Advanced Math 2 (like a Pre-Calculus Honors, maybe?) class where the kids furiously took notes on their own, I still think they needed help with organization and actually getting something useful out of their notes.

I’m planning on implementing a very low-maintenance version of INBs. Foldables are definitely NOT my thing and there’s no way I could keep track of a table of contents, let alone make my students do it. So really these are just going to be regular old notebooks. NBs, if you will.

Basically, my plan is to have my students put all the math they do into their notebooks. That’s… it. Maybe this is too unstructured (I’ll find out), but I really don’t care what the format is or how pretty it looks, I just want them to record the math they do in an organized manner and all in one place.

I’m going to require that they write the date and the topic on the top of each page. Below that they do the warm up. Below that they show the work for whatever activity or investigation we do. Below that we sum up the investigation or do notes or additional examples. Below that goes homework or some other sort of output. That’s the plan. I’ve requested some glue sticks so that the students can paste in any handouts. Yay, glue sticks.

It sounds simple. Hopefully it is. I plan to do regular notebook checks so that they know I’m serious about them picking up their pencils and doing the work. Accountability for them, accountability for me. Can you tell I’m a first year teacher? I’m constantly worried that they’re not going to take me seriously. Well, I guess I just better be serious when I need to be serious, right?

Along with the notebook, I’m requiring a folder for graded work or extraneous handouts. Hopefully I won’t be handing out much that won’t go in the notebook, but they need a place to store quizlets (my department’s name for our formative assessment), instruction sheets for projects, practice tests, etc.

Eh. I’m at the point where I have all these PLANS but have no idea how they’re actually going to work until the school year starts. The anticipation is killing me!

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Filed under notebooks, planning, travel