Wednesday, March 22, 2017

How to Prepare Students for HS Math Standardized Tests

Hello again, friends!

I am here to present to you the details of a program I use in my high school Geometry classroom, which is both fun and proven to be very helpful! Read on to learn how to implement a version that fits your and your students' needs! SOS stands for Save Our Skills and while I did not create the acronym or the idea of practicing these skills, this post is about a way to effectively implement a way to help students, teachers, and schools.

Q: Who is this SOS program for? 
A: It is for any high school math student who takes any standardized general math test and their teachers and/or tutors.

Q: Why is this program important? 
A: When students begin taking subject-specific math courses (Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry, Pre-Cal, Calculus, Statistics, etc...), they become super focused on the current content. When they go to take a general math test, they wish they had reviewed and prepared for all the content on which they may be tested. In addition to the college entrance exams, some state end-of-course tests have become general subject tests, like the ACT Aspire exam. Keeping a firm grip on all previously learned material is also crucial in future math courses.

Q: So what? What is the way to help? 
A: SOS Activities! SOS stands for Save Our Skills. They are short review assignments which reinforce the previously learned skills. They are in addition to and not related to current classroom content. As a Geometry teacher, I focus on pre-Algebra and Algebra I skills. 

Q: When do you do these activities? 
A: This is up to each teacher, but I want to explain what I do because it is effective, consistent, and pushes the students without overwhelming them with loads of extra work. I distribute two SOS activities at one time. I print them back to back, so that totals 20 problems. I give them out at the beginning of one week and it is due at the end of the next week. So, essentially, they have two weeks to complete 20 review problems. This makes it manageable, since I assign this on top of any content homework. 
Q: When do you start? 
A: I suppose you could begin at the beginning of the year, or whenever you and your students are ready. I begin at the beginning of the spring semester, in January. I don't want them to get too sick of them before spring testing rolls around, but again, you do whatever works for your classroom and your students.

Q: Where do students complete the activities? 
A: My students mostly do them at home. We have very little down-time in class, so they do not get much of an opportunity to work on them in class. So, my students primarily do them as homework. My school has an advisory period which has a built-in study hall-ish period. Sometimes, my students come to me and work on them with me and get help during this time. I also try to spark their memory of how to work the problems by throwing some similar problems in for Bell Work once or twice throughout the two week period.
Q: Where do I find the SOS activities?
A: You could make your own. Or, save some time and you can get mine here: SOS ACTIVITIES

Q: How do you motivate students to care enough to do their best on these activities?
A:I give my students five reasons to do their SOS well. (I can think of more, but these are the five I present to them. If you need more, ask in the comments and I will be happy to help you with some!) Here are the five I give:
1. Class Grade. I grade the activities for accuracy and I give feedback. They need to do well because it will negatively impact their grade and therefore, their GPA.
2. Standardized Test Performance. For my students, they have an end-of-course test, which they need to do well on or potentially face some remediation. They are taking the ACT, the SAT, the PSAT and are trying to get the very highest score they can so they can get into college, earn scholarships, and try to qualify for National Merit.
3. To Avoid TGS. At our school, we have an option of assigning Teacher Guided Study (TGS) to students who are falling behind in classes or need to make up work. It is helpful, but is also punitive, and can carry further consequences if they don't attend. So, for you, this may be an option for you in the form of morning or lunch detention. Or parent contact. Reason Number 3 is the only one I give that is a potential consequence. They others are to motivate with incentives.
4. Individual Incentives. When I collect the SOS activities, I check for completion. I don't have time to check for accuracy, so all they have to do for the first reward is complete the entire activity. If it is complete, they get a ticket. (Those little blue tear-tickets from the big roll are really cheap.) They put their name on it and they place it in their class bucket. Then, I grade them and each student who gets a 20/20 receives an additional ticket in the bucket. This gives each student two chances for their name to be drawn on Drawing Day. Drawing Day comes the next day. I have a big treasure chest which is filled with toys and knick-knacks that I have collected throughout the years. It has candy bars in it, which I gladly buy with my own money. But the BIG prize for students are the reward passes. There is a pass for "One Bonus Point on an Assessment," "One Penalty-Free Homework Pass," and "Drop Lowest Homework Grade." These are a hit and my most coveted prizes...even over the candy bars!
5. Classroom Competition. I also up the ante by adding an element of student to student accountability. I count the number of students who turned in a completed SOS out of how many total students were present in each class. I publish (by posting on the wall) each class's turn in percentage. Each round, they anxiously await their class's percentage and placement. I offer a party to the winning class. This helps me so much because they are encouraging each other to do their work more than I ever could. They are offering to help each other and they send text reminders to each other, too.

If you try this out, please let me know how it goes! I love doing this with my students and I would love some feedback and different implementation ideas! :) 
Happy testing! 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Test Strategy: JuJu on that BEAT!

Hi Y'all!

So, this is the second year that my state has been using the ACT Aspire test as the End of Year summative assessment that replaced the PARCC, which replaced our state tests. It is supposed to help the students prepare to take the ACT test, but I am not finding the formats to be that aligned at all. First, the students are assessed on a computer. I understand why, but we are not a 1:1 school, and students do most/all of their geometry learning without a computer. There are also "Explain and Justify" questions, which the ACT does not have. I will only address the second point as I get kind of whiny and tend to complain when I get going about assessing our students on computers when the class is not taught on a computer.

So, how am I preparing my students to be assessed on the "Explain and Justify" questions on the ACT Aspire test? Well, our district brought in a specialist on Depth of Knowledge (DoK) questions. The idea was to teach us how to formulate DoK questions, so that we incorporate more into our formative assessments. So, my team and I have worked to give the students more questions like this. But, naturally, they were not doing well on these questions just because we were exposing them to more of them. They needed to be taught how to approach the questions, answer them completely and thoroughly enough to earn all points possible.

Well, I looked around for some strategies with no luck. So, I came up with my own and tried to make it culturally relevant. And with that, JuJu on the Beat was born. See the picture of the anchor chart below.

Of course, this strategy requires some practice with efficiency because the test is timed and difficult for students to complete in the given time restraints. But, with practice, it does help. Students tend to do better on open response prompts when they have worked the problem on paper before going straight to typing in the box. 

If you really want to make it stick though, you should actually do the popular dance! My high school students equally loved it and were embarrassed for me! It was great! 


In the end, have fun and do what you think is best for your students. If that is being goofy and dancing with them to help them remember a strategy...DO IT! :)

Monday, July 25, 2016

Eight Ways to Get Secondary Students to Behave for a Substitute

Eight Ways to Get Secondary Students to Behave for a sub:

Teachers, let’s face it. It is easier to come to school sick than prepare for a sub. And the worst part is coming back to 3 pages of how poorly your class behaved. You will have notes about students who have never stepped a toe out of line and it will make you wonder what got into your students and make you sick at your stomach all at the same time. It happens to the best of us. J Be prepared for a sub by having these safe-guards in place.

1. Procedures. Procedures. Procedures.  I once had a teaching friend who had a schedule opposite of mine which allowed us to cover each other's classes. Every time he taught my class, he complimented me on the fact that my students came in and met the expectations as if they didn't notice he was there instead of me. He was so impressed with how well my students knew what to do with their homework without asking, how they knew to begin working quietly and what work they were to do and where to do it. I always answered him that I emphasize teaching and assessing procedures at the beginning of the year. We often discussed the amount of time it took to do all that. I assured him and I assure you that you will get that time back two-fold. There is nothing more important to the classroom function than procedures. It is also important that you are consistent in following through with the procedures. If you stay consistent with the procedures and behavioral expectations when you are present, students are more likely to stay in the habit of those expectations when you are gone. They will behave as a well-oiled machine. Looking to beef up the way you teach and assess your classroom procedures? Try this method here.

2. Accountability.  Ask the sub to leave feedback on all things- good and bad. Follow up with written referrals, home calls, detention, etc. for the students who misbehave. It is equally important that you follow up with the students whose names were left as being particularly helpful. A short note, a piece of candy, a HW pass, etc. go a long way with positive behavior for a sub.

3. Use a Sub Tub or a Sub Binder. Have a pre-determined plan in place for what your sub will use to guide their day. I set up my Sub Binder at the beginning of the year which details all the general information: schedule, class lists, procedures and rules, etc. This saves time when prepping for a sub because the only thing left is that day’s lesson and any special circumstance notes. This is a link to the covers I purchased, but there are hundreds of paid and free ideas on TpT. 

4. Carrot vs. Stick.  Choose the carrot. (This is more for secondary teachers with multiple classes.) Of course you need to deal with students who do not follow rules and meet the guidelines set forth for them, but there will be fewer of those students if you use a carrot, not a stick. I learned this from a sub several years ago and it has been one of my favorite tools in my toolkit. Before you are gone, when you are going over the procedure with students for what to do when you are absent, teach them the rules for a class competition. Rules are: the class that is the most helpful, most polite, on-task, well-behaved class according to the sub wins a prize. The sub has final say. Leave a note on the board that the “Class Competition is ON!” and students will hold each other very accountable. They encourage and remind each other so politely…it’s almost weird! I have had subs praise this technique and thank me for this, telling me how hard it is to choose the best class. It makes me so proud to come back to a note like that as opposed to one filled with negativity.

5. Clear expectations. (For students and sub) Plan ahead. When you teach those procedures at the beginning of the year, add in one or two specifically for having a sub. Let students know what you expect of them and the consequences for not meeting the expectations. Ideas for expectations would be something like, “Continue following classroom procedures as if I am here unless the sub tells you differently. Above all else, follow the sub’s directions.”

6. Give meaningful work.  Unless there is a special circumstance, avoid having the students learn any heavy, new material. That puts pressure on the sub and often leads to student confusion, which leads to student frustration. Then, the students either misbehave or shut down. Give them meaningful practice over content they are familiar/confident with. The practice should be reinforcement work without being rote or too repetitive. I try to stick with independent work unless your class has had time to master the procedures associated with cooperative learning.
Here are some suggested activities for Secondary Math:

7. Classroom jobs. -Assign or select a sub helper. If you already have established classroom jobs, have a sub helper as one of your assignments. How you select this student may be up to you- have students apply, select from a jar, select based on student’s ability to fill this role, select based on seat location/proximity to teacher desk, etc. However you select this student, make sure to emphasize the importance and responsibility of the job. Again, be clear with the expectations for this role and even offer an incentive for a job well done. If you don’t already have classroom jobs, consider having a student or students who would be great for this job.

8. Have your teachers friends check in. Establish a routine with your teacher bestie or a neighbor teacher that you check on each other’s classes when one of you is absent. Have them check in with the sub, introduce his or herself, and let the sub know they are available to help if needed. Also, set it up with this teacher friend that you can include their name and room number in the note to the sub.
Your substitutes will thank you and you can be absent without additional headaches!

Would you like additional tools to help you prepare for a sub? I love this blog post from Math Giraffe on how to build your emergency substitute kit!

I sincerely hope you have a terrific school year with few absences. But if you have to be gone, I think you will be prepared. :)

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Paper Plate Unit Circle

Teaching the unit circle should be so much more than memorizing. Unfortunately, that was how I learned it in Trig class. I don't remember all the details about it how it was presented, but I remember studying it and memorizing all the parts. I have seen tricks on Pinterest to help students memorize it and while there is some value in ways to help students remember things, this lesson will hopefully provide your students with a much deeper understanding of the parts of the unit circle, focusing on how the degrees, the coordinates, the special right triangles, and the circumference of the circle all relate...and it's hands-on and color-coded! There should be no need for memorizing!


MATERIALS: plain paper plates, highlighters/colored markers/pencils, scissors, protractor, three different colors of copy paper
PREPARATION: (For full understanding, students should have already learned the special right triangles. They should know the relationship between the angle measures and side lengths. They should be easily able to find the leg lengths with a hypotenuse of one.) Copy the 45-45-90 triangles onto one colored paper (I used pink), the 30-60-90-A triangles onto another colored paper (I used yellow), and the 30-60-90-B triangles on to a third colored paper (I used blue). Ensure matching markers/highlighters for each colored paper you use.

Set-up, Degrees, and Coordinates

1. Distribute paper plates. Have students fold them in half and in half again. These creases represent the x- and y-axes.
2. With a black sharpie, trace the folds. Label one x-axis and the other y-axis. Label the origin (0,0).
3. Tell students, for the sake of this activity, the paper plate has a radius of one unit. Keep this reminder handy throughout the activity. Use the radius of one to discuss the coordinates created by the intersection of the axes with the edge of the plate. Label (1,0), (0,1), (-1,0), and (0,-1).
4. Have a brief discussion reminding students about the total degrees in a circle (for example: 360° in a circle, semi-circle has 180°, line has a measure of 180°, etc.) Tell them the point (1,0) represents the 0° location. With or without use of a protractor, have students discuss in groups or as a class, the degrees of each of the other coordinate points. Label all degrees: 0°, 90°, 180°, 270°, and 360°.

5. Have students fold their plates along the diagonal so that the 0° line touches the 90° and 180° line touches 270°. Then, fold along the opposite diagonal so the 90° line touches 180° and 0° touches 270°. Make creases. Trace these creases with a new color (preferably, the same color as the paper used to copy the 45-45-90 triangles.) Discuss the degrees of the new lines and label each using the same color. (45°, 135°, 225°, 315°)
6. Distribute one 45-45-90 triangle to each student. Label the right angle and the 45° angles. Using the hypotenuse length of one unit, have students determine the leg lengths and label the lengths in the boxes. (√2/2) Use those side lengths to investigate the coordinate points of the intersection of the lines that were just made with the paper plate. (For example, move horizontally along the x-axis √2/2 units and vertically along the y-axis √2/2 units to arrive at the intersection (√2/2, √2/2)). Use this triangle to find the coordinate points of all the new colored lines (45°, 135°, 225°, 315°)

7. Use a protractor to measure the 30° angle and make a tiny mark.  Do the same for 210°, which students can use the 30° from the 180° line for help. Make a fold on those marks. Label 30° and 210°. Use the protractor to make marks at 150° and 330°. Make a fold on those marks. Label 150° and 330°. Trace these creases with a unique color (preferably the same colored paper used to copy the 30-60-90-A triangles).

8. Distribute one 30-60-90-A triangle to each student. Label the 30°, the 60°, and 90° angles. Using the hypotenuse length of one unit, have students determine the leg lengths and label the lengths in the boxes. (1/2 and √3/2) Use those side lengths to investigate the coordinate points of the intersection of the lines that were just made with the paper plate. (For example, move horizontally along the x-axis √3/2 units and vertically along the y-axis 1/2 unit to arrive at the intersection (√3/2,1/2)). Use this triangle to find the coordinate points of all the new colored lines (30°, 150°, 210°, 330°).

9. Use a protractor to measure the 60° angle and make a tiny mark.  Do the same for 240°, which students can use the 60° from the 180° line for help. Make a fold on those marks. Label 60° and 240°. Use the protractor to make marks at 120° and 300°. Make a fold on those marks. Label 120° and 300°. Trace these creases with a unique color (preferably the same colored paper used to copy the 30-60-90-B triangles).

10. Distribute one 30-60-90-B triangle to each student. Label the 30°, the 60°, and 90° angles. Using the hypotenuse length of one unit, have students determine the leg lengths and label the lengths in the boxes. (1/2 and √3/2) Use those side lengths to investigate the coordinate points of the intersection of the lines that were just made with the paper plate. (For example, move horizontally along the x-axis 1/2 unit and vertically along the y-axis √3/2 units to arrive at the intersection (1/2,√3/2)). Use this triangle to find the coordinate points of all the new colored lines (60°, 120°, 240°, 300°).


1. Remind students of how to find circumference of a circle and connect that formula to the unit of radians. 
2. Use guided questioning to help them discover and label the remaining radians. For example:
     a. At 0°, how many radians have we traveled? 0 radians.
     b. After one full trip around the circle, how far have we traveled? 2 radians.
     c. If one full circumference around the circle is 2, how far is halfway around the circle?  radians.
     d. How many radians have you traveled to the 90° line? /2 radians.
     e. How many radians have you traveled to the 270° line? 1 and ½ radians or 3/2 radians.
 Continue with questioning until students catch on to how the fractions relate to the radians and they are all labeled.

I have created a document that includes the directions listed above, a template for the three types of triangles, and a blank unit circle to use as a quiz. You can download it for free from my Teachers Pay Teachers store. Enjoy!

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Eight Ways to Celebrate Pi Day

8 Ways to Celebrate Pi Day

  1. Discover Pi.  Tell your students they are mathematicians! Mathematicians discover patterns in nature and that’s all pi is. A number that occurs in nature! Provide students with several round objects, such as balls, lids, oranges, Frisbees, CDs, plates, etc. Using a paper tape measurer or some string, have them measure and record the circumference and diameter of each as precisely as they can. Have students divide the circumference by the diameter. The result should be an approximation of pi, 3.14 units!
  2. Dress up! Buy or make your own t-shirt. Accessorize with round jewelry. Get creative. Have the students design their own pi shirt and have a competition or a fashion show exhibiting their creativity! Coordinate with the art teacher for some extra fun cross-curricular ideas! Here is a link to some of my favorites: Etsy Pi Day Goodies
    my shirt and necklace last year
    pi day dress 2016
  3. Run a pi-K. Speaking of cross-curricular ideas, work with the PE teacher to organize a school-wide pi-K! (Instead of a 5K, students run 3.14 kilometers). The ideas with this are plentiful. You could make it a fundraiser or have it on a weekend where families can get involved.
  4. Eat pi(e)! Bring pies for your students! Or, get parent volunteers to donate them! If you don’t want to do pies, how about pizza pies? Or round shaped treats, like Moon Pies or Oatmeal Crème Pies? Let your creativity round wild. The students will love it!
  5. Decorate! Don’t forget to decorate your classroom, just like you would for other holidays! Let students create round art work, make your own, or download this freebie in my TpT store.
  6. Celebrate the history of pi. There are some misconceptions about how pi was discovered. Let students research the truth and make presentations or just have a class discussion. (Again, you could make this a cross-curricular connection with the history unit.)
  7. Compete! Have a memorization contest. My students always love this one! See who can memorize the most digits of pi! Make it a class competition and give a prize (perhaps a pie) to the winners.
  8. Write pi-kus. Then have a pi-etry slam. A pi-ku is a type of haiku that has 3 syllables in the first line, one in the second, and four in the third line. 
However you decide to celebrate with your students, be sure to make it fun! Students need to have a positive relationship with Math!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Decorating and Organizing Ideas for the Secondary Classroom

Welcome to my secondary Math classroom! It is functional and organized. And, it. is. cute! Yes, it is decorated. I have seen so much advice on the internet for secondary teachers that students HATE cute. Funny, because my students rave about finally coming into a room at the HS that is inviting and comfortable. They go out of their way to compliment the decor. I think the key is functionality must trump. There is room for color-coded items and a theme, but there needs to be a bigger picture. It needs to serve the student learning in some way. Decorating just to decorate can become clutter quickly. However, having said that, teachers are the ones who spend endless hours a day in there and it needs to be aesthetically pleasing to the teacher.

Here is the "before."

So, here it is. I have highlighted a few parts of the room, in case you are looking for ideas.

I have a general nautical theme in my room. It is not overwhelming- just a few things here and there. There is a big anchor hanging on the wall, a life preserver on the bulletin board, nautical framed quotes (that you can find here, if interested), and the word wall is called "Anchor Words." Subtle, but it gives me something to tie the decor to.

I am so in love with my word wall! I have an extra white board at the back of my room. One half serves as a command center and one half is for current geometry unit terms. I print each unit's terms onto the same colored paper, laminate, and stick magnets to the back. As we learn a new term, I stick it to the board. They stay up throughout the unit and after we have moved on to the next unit (which has terms printed on a different color), I move the old ones to the ceiling. The metal strips that hold our ceiling tiles are magnetic. It is a perfect place. They are still in sight in case they need to be referred to, but are not cluttering up valuable space for current content.

I use interactive notebooks and LOVE them! However, the supply battle is a tricky one. What I have found that works best is for each table to have their own drawer set. Each set has a few pairs of scissors, a tape dispenser, highlighters, a handheld sharpener, and any tools we are currently using in that unit, such as a ruler, compass, or protractor. This year, I painted the Sterilite drawer frames so that now each table has a name. They are the "Purple Team," for example, and it makes it easy to call on groups to share out or take turns doing things. 

Fighting absenteeism is almost as bad as fighting the pencil battle (my all-time most loathed classroom management battle). With interactive notebooks and block schedule, it is really hard to catch a student up when they have missed. I created this command center from ideas I saw on Pinterest that families were using to curb confusion. The students check the calendar for what happened when they were gone and pick up any missed materials from the appropriate file folder in the crate. Then, they borrow an INB from me or a friend and copy the material. If they need a lesson, I will find them content from YouTube or arrange for the student to come early or stay late for a tutorial.

It also serves as a pencil station, where they can sharpen, borrow, and return pencils.

This bulletin board was designed by me, but the content came straight from my former Geometry students. My students filled out an end-of-year activity and one of the parts was to offer advice to my future students. I gathered their quotes and made them into this. The students really seem to be interested in seeing what the older students have to say about how to succeed in my class. It's really fun for my former students to come in and see their quote with their name. They are so proud to contribute!

So there you have it! Thanks for checking it out! Here are a few more pictures from around the room!


Thursday, July 9, 2015

Christmas In July

I find that no one loves a sale more than teachers. I also know that even though teachers say they love summer because they get so much rest, their brains are always working to plan for school.  So, a group of teachers that sell on Teachers Pay Teachers have come together to throw the perfect sale...Christmas in July!

Sellers are taking four of their products to mark down significantly and one product to make a flash freebie! There are two ways to check the sales! 1. Just log on to Teachers Pay Teachers and type the hashtag #christmasinjuly in the search bar. You will have access to all the products of the participating teachers. Some are winter/Christmas/holiday themed, and some are just higher-priced products. 2. Check out my friend, Yara's blog for a link-up to all the participating stores!  Yara's Sea of Knowledge Blog 

Here are the four products I am discounting by 50%. I will also be selecting one product to make a flash freebie, so check my store next Monday and Tuesday!

See you there! Happy shopping!