Category Archives: FST / Algebra 2

Desmos rocks my world

Last night I took the batteries out of my TI (83 plus!) graphing calculator to use in my bike lights. Sorry not sorry. Priorities.

In case you haven’t already discovered this fantastic resource, there is an online graphing calculator (and so much more) called desmos. Use it once and you will never want to use your old TI again. It’s easy to zoom in and out. It’s IN COLOR. If you are graphing multiple functions, you can make each one a different color. You can create sliders. And it is all FREE. Also be sure to check out all of the beautiful artwork while you’re there.

I won’t be ditching the TI for good because using it is a major part of my school’s current FST (aka the second half of Algebra 2) curriculum, which is fine. Students need to learn how to use TIs because right now they are the accepted technology for tests, both in the classroom and for standardized tests like the ACT and SAT.

Desmos is definitely worth incorporating into the classroom though. I used desmos with great success last summer when teaching summer school, and I think it’s great for doing investigations and creating visuals. That tiny, pixelated TI screen seems rather clunky and out-dated next to desmos, where students can really “see” the graphs and play around with them more easily. When I personally do math, I always use desmos if my laptop is with me. (Being significantly lighter than my laptop, the TI is more likely to be in my backpack on any given day.)

So I plan to use both desmos and the TIs in my classroom this fall. The TIs will be our go-to use-every-day type of calculator, but I’ll pull out the laptops as much as possible to use desmos for graphing investigations. I also hope the kids will come to appreciate desmos and start to use it at home or when they come to the math resource room during study hall. From summer school, I already have desmos investigations made up for quadratic functions and rational functions, but they were made hastily and need some improvement and some updating to more closely match my school’s FST curriculum. I’m excited! Now I just have to do some work and make these plans actually happen.

How do you incorporate desmos into your classroom?

Here are some examples I’ve found on the MTBoS:

Fawn’s Des-man which inspired the desmos team to create this awesome version of the project

Bob Lochel’s Desmos Filing Cabinet

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Filed under FST / Algebra 2, graphing, planning

Formative Assessment Brain Dump

Today I enjoyed another get together with my FST (kind of like the 2nd half of an Algebra 2 class) co-worker. We had a good discussion on formative assessment and how to grade it, and many thoughts and ideas are still running through my mind, but here’s a brain dump of where I am so far.

School policy requires each class to grade 25% on “Effort” and 75% on “Knowledge and Skills”. Pretty much as a whole, the math department uses homework and quizlets (your typical formative assessment short quiz) to make up that 25% Effort grade.

Last year my co-worker graded homework for completion and quizlets for correctness, but he was having trouble reconciling the fact that something graded for correctness was going into the “Effort” grade. So he proposed that the kids take the quizlets like normal, he grades them like normal, but if the kids make corrections then they get 100%.

At first, I didn’t really like the idea, but now as I’m typing this I’m kind of warming up to it. Well, let me back up. First, I’ve done lots of reading on Standards-Based Grading and am intrigued by it, so I personally don’t really like the 25% Effort thing in general, but I have to accept it and move on. Likewise, I don’t really want to bother grading homework. I want great math to happen during class so that there’s no need to dole out the typical “page 155 #1-27 odd” homework assignments. If I feel like the kids need more practice (or if some individual students ask for it), then I can give some homework problems, but otherwise I’m not really interested in seeing a bunch of kids copy off each other every day just to get their completion grade.

But anyway, my co-worker and I want to basically have the same set up because our kids get shuffled at semester, so I’ll play along with grading homework for completion. No big deal.

Now, regarding the quizlets, like I said, at first I didn’t like the idea of kids blowing off their quizlets and then copying the correct answers for 100%. So I told my co-worker that although their effort grade will be higher from that easy 100%, I worry that their actual effort will go down because they won’t really care about being prepared for the quizlet if they know they can just correct it and get 100%. Basically, I want them to take the quizlets seriously, and I worry that they won’t if they know they can just correct it.

But, as I’m typing this, I am opening up to the idea. If I can create the expectation that they come prepared for the quizlet, and I continually emphasize it’s importance as an indicator of what they know and don’t know, then it’s very possible that they will take the quizlet seriously despite the “easy” grading of it. In fact, maybe the “easy” grading of it will take some pressure off of them and really encourage them to make corrections and learn from their mistakes. And that’s the most important thing about formative assessment, right? If they can identify their errors and learn from their mistakes then they’re doing exactly what I want, so why not give them 100%?

Grading is weird.

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Filed under formative assessment, FST / Algebra 2, grading

My Job

In the fall I will be one of four new math teachers in my department, which is pretty unique. For two of us, it’s our first year teaching. There are five returning math teachers, which brings our department total to nine. I’ve met everyone except for two of the other newbies, and I think it’s going to be a really great group. My school has an AB block schedule with five blocks per day, and every other day the department has a common planning time, which is so awesome. I interviewed at a lot of schools this spring, and a common planning time was rare, so I lucked out on that one. I will definitely appreciate being able to plan and reflect with my coworkers regularly.

I’m teaching two classes this year: Geometry and Functions, Statistics, and Trigonometry, also known as FST. The other new teachers and I were presented with the four scheduling options, and the Geometry and FST schedule was my first pick, so I was happy about that.

The district is transitioning to Big Ideas Math (the middle school and Algebra classes already use it), and this year we are getting the Big Ideas Geometry book. I used Discovering Geometry while student teaching and thought that it was a good text, but I have absolutely zero knowledge about the Big Ideas approach. I’d never even heard of them. Do any of you use Big Ideas? What do you think? What have you heard about Big Ideas? Unfortunately, we won’t have the Geometry textbooks and resources until late July, so that makes planning a bit difficult. Luckily, I taught Geometry while student teaching so I have a base to build on.

FST is an interesting class. After Geometry, there are two possible tracks. A student may take Advanced Algebra, and then likely continue on with Pre-Cal and then AP Calc. The other option splits up the Advanced Algebra topics into two classes: Algebra 2 the first year and FST the second year. The purpose seems to be to cover the material at a slower pace, do more review, and cover more topics. So most of my FST kids will be seniors with a  few juniors in there too.

I’ve already met with the other FST teacher this summer, and he kindly gave me copies of the “text” and has told me about the course in general. I say “text” because there is no official textbook for this course, rather some teachers several years ago came up with their own curriculum for this class, so I have the course notes and homework assignments in a big binder. Fortunately, he also gave me a copy of the Discovering Advanced Algebra textbook so I can use their investigations and such. I will also be scouring the MTBoS for good activities,  problems, and investigations.

I feel lucky to be in what seems to be a very supportive and collaborative department. My FST coworker and I are meeting again next week, and he seems very open to new ideas and suggestions and genuinely wants to make the course better. I have a good balance of freedom and structure: I can deliver the content in whatever way works for me as long as we teach the same thing at the same time, use common quizlets (the math department’s formative assessment) and tests, and have the same grading policy. The students’ schedules get shuffled around at semester, so some of his students will come to me and vice versa. I would prefer having the same students all year because switching it up will mess up the classroom culture that we’ve worked to create, but oh well.

So I’ll be working on FST until late July when the Geometry team starts to get together. Lots to think about!


Filed under FST / Algebra 2, Geometry, planning