The One with Tzeltal


Only fitting to end the Video Project with a video. But I’m too cheap for that WordPress option, so here’s a screenshot.

You can see the kiddo (kind of). You can see the tiles. What you can’t see is the kiddo speaking Tzeltal (an indigenous Mayan language).captura-de-pantalla-2017-02-21-19-02-20What do you observe? What do you wonder?

The One with the Video Project Jobs


While this blog has helped me to reflect on my work, as well as to keep an archive of sorts, I fear that the thing I will remember most about today’s lesson is that a lot of the kiddos summarized the jobs they had to do for the Video Project instead of just writing their names like we wanted them to. Apparently no amount of mental wishing made this happen. English Language Development for the win (when just plain efficiency would have done).

Photo: Picking roles within the group to ensure that people get to do a range of videos explaining how to solve equations with algebra tiles:2017-01-18-17-35-28What do you notice? What do you wonder?

“Mister, I’m Shy”


We work in leveled groups on solving bags and coins problems with tiles (moving towards solving equations with fewer scaff0lds) but my favorite part of the day is when one of the kiddos comes for help at lunch. He sees that there are 11th and 12th grade girls in the room and refuses to come in.

“Why?” I ask (probably while multitasking).

“Mister, I’m shy,” he says, looking at the girls again. (He will repeat this phrase when I ask him why he doesn’t practice English with his uncle. It’s adorable.)

And that’s how we end up sitting on the floor outside my room, solving equations with algebra tiles.

(He is not shy, but I will OK, whatever in the name of student voice.)


Day 22: The One with Different Ways to Show Negatives


One of the many changes we’re making to our curriculum is thinking about how to represent negative numbers. We’ve used CPM‘s Algebra Tiles a lot, but this is the first year that we’ll really explore negative tiles, but also the idea of opposite.

Side note: last time we taught this unit,  we used the Interactive Math Program’s hot and cold cubes (hot cubes cause an increase, cold cubes cause a decrease). Which I think was a neat idea, except that CPM’s negative tiles are red, which confused students when we talked about hot cubes causing an increase. This was not helped by a school-wide evacuation in the middle of one of our lessons. We had planned a summative project entitled “Mystery Soup” (how many hot and cold cubes are there? Maybe?) but with all the confusion and our eventual movement away from hot and cold cubes, we all seem to have forgotten what “Mystery Soup” refers to.

At any rate, watching the kiddos think about and represent negatives and opposites has been interesting. This group thought of different ways to show an expression with negatives using tiles. Any time we can get kiddos to talk together, but show their own way of thinking is pretty cool:2016-09-14-08-32-59-2

Objectives: 2016-09-14-18-13-21

Day 59: The One with the Exit Ticket


2015-11-13 18.58.14As a whole, our school has chosen to focus on differentiation. This is particularly relevant, given that the recent immigrant population at our school means that some kiddos have done formal education for years (actually some of the best schools in their country, we’ve been told) while sitting next to students who studied for a few years, then dropped out. (This is not entirely an exaggeration, though I usually try not to place students in the same group that have such a wide academic gap between them).

We teach simplifying and solving every year. It’s actually one of the few topics (along with area) that we’ve taught every year of this course sequence. This means that some students have seen it and know it, while some students have never seen it.

So, we gave them an exit ticket. We spent one day going over simplifying with algebra tiles and then asked them to show us what they know. This can be tricky since one day isn’t quite enough for some students to dust off what they learned last year while others might have been confused because they can solve equations, but never learned how to use algebra tiles.

This is an exit ticket from a kiddo who I taught last year and did good work with algebra tiles. They are able to draw representations with the tiles but didn’t correctly use them to solve the equations. Also, I made them gave me my pen back afterwards (I don’t think they’d thought I’d noticed at first)

Day 148: The One Where We Taught Each Other Fractions

One of the quirky things about working in a school with lots of recent immigrants is that we can never quite be sure what they’ve learned prior to being at our school. State standards? Fantastic. They don’t apply out of the country, though.

One of the gaps that we generally count on is fractions, which are typically taught in middle school in the United States. They come up frequently on the state exit exam and are good to know about in general.

After trying some stuff in homework and review packets, we (my curriculum partner, really) bit the bullet and purchased fraction circles. (“What do we call them?” ask the kiddos. “Tiles?” I suggest. “But we already have tiles,” they respond. I tried to convince them that they were called “pie pieces”, but I think that is asking too much.)

On Friday, Monday and Tuesday, curriculum partner and I split our classes in two. Some students worked on fractions with the pie pieces and some students working on writing steps to solve equations.

Today, students who learned about fractions taught the rest of the class how to use the pie pieces, how to write fractions and how to write and find equivalent fractions.

Photo: Student Worksheet on Making Fractions

2015-04-16 15.46.51This worksheet is from a student where the teacher admittedly struggled at first, but pulled off a pretty strong showing. The student who wrote this is a pretty good artist and despite many ups and downs, was pretty engaged (there were also 6 adult visitors in the room – one for each group and enough to engage our students while pushing their thinking).

I wonder why this student (and others) sometimes shade in non-consecutive pie pieces (see 6/12). I also observe that most of their pie pieces are the same size (except for 2/3), which is not always a given with our students (especially those with Formal Interrupted Education, which I do not think applies to this student).

Day 147: The One Where We Write Solving Steps (or Just the Answers)

We are rounding the bend. Two and a half weeks of content left and 2 days (really 1) left in this min-unit on solving steps. Grades for the fifth marking period were also due today, which means that I should be doing something totally not school related (which probably means blogging, watching TV, doing BTSA. Not exercising.)

Previously, curriculum partner and I divided students in half. One of us taught kiddos about fractions. One of us taught the other kiddos about writing the steps to solve equations. Today, everyone was back together for the first time in a few days. Students spent today working on a series of slow release equations – some with decimals and negatives for students who learned to write the solving steps and some with negatives for students who had studied fractions.

Photo 1: The One With the Solving Steps

Student work showing solving steps.Making seating charts is hard. I know some teachers are very firm about not ever letting students change groups. I will sometimes change groups if students advocate for themselves with a good reason (our kiddos also have all of their classes together for the whole day, so personalities can get more explosive as the day goes on).

I’ve been trouble placing one kiddo. But today, he ended up working really well with his new group. They talked and worked and wrote together. His work is shown above.

Photo 2: The One with the Equations and Answers

2015-04-15 16.47.28This year is the second year that we’ve used algebra tiles, so some of our kiddos are getting really good at using them. Today, most students who had only seen them this year continued using them to solve equations. Their groups tended to be more homogenous than usual and it was really exciting to see some students really step up their algebra tile game.

Since we haven’t taught these kiddos how to go from algebra tiles to writing the steps, I just had them write the equation and the answer. This photo is from one kiddo who was left alone (the rest of his group had to help out another class) and sat there for about 30 minutes and plowed through all the problems. Pretty cool.

Days 1, 2, 3 and 4: The One with the School Values, String Shapes, Patterns and the Selfish Shellfish Selfie

Survived Day One. Survived Days One through Four, in fact.

Photo One: Values (Day One)

2014-08-18 17.27.11

Since almost all of our students are newcomers, we spend the first two days of school in orientation, where teachers lead sessions on topics that help our students be successful in school. In talking to other teachers, I am thankful that our school values and takes the time to do this. One of the activities I taught in my class (on our four school values) involved sorting words into “good” and “bad” categories. Admittedly, “good” and “bad” are super polar (as some of our kiddos pointed out), but it’s a start. 

It´s interesting to see which words are tricky for our kiddos and why. Almost every class asked what “liar” and “caring” meant, but understood as soon as they heard them pronounced. Kiddos at various points thought “selfish” was “a type of fish” and “when you take a photo of yourself”. At any rate, they were generally able to make sense of what the words meant. 

Photo #2: School Values Posters (Day 2)

2014-08-21 20.21.30

Having talked about good and bad values, we transitioned into our four school values. The kiddos cut out photos from magazines that they thought represented (or didn’t represent) each school value. Note: I had first period draw their pictures. Giving them magazines was probably a better idea. They were super thoughtful about the pictures they found.

Photo #3: The String Shapes (Day 3)

Students making string shapes

Yesterday was the first “official” day of content. To reenforce groupwork norms, we had students work together to make 2D and 3D shapes out of string. It’s more challenging than it seems. It was interesting to see that groups that talked together while they were building tended to build more shapes. Success rate of groups that tried to plan out shapes before actually touching the string was mixed. Side note: students were very into having photos of the finished project taken. Perhaps a future motivational tool? I wish I’d gotten more photos of the process…(except for that whole “teaching thing”)

Photo #4: The Patterns (Day 4)

Students show how figures in a pattern change

In moving towards our first unit on linear relationships, we’re asking the kiddos to look at patterns (many teachers and the CPM curriculum refer to them as “pile patterns”, though this extra language is probably a bit much for our crowd) and then show the pattern, using colors, words, numbers and arrows. Note: I chose quite a few of these photos to showcase growth, either in students from last year or from students who were ready to give up at the beginning of class but with a little (lot?) of coaxing, were able to make progress. Not that you could really tell without knowing the students, but…

Photo #5: The Dot Talk(s) (Day 3)

Dot talks

One of the members of our teaching team has experience giving number talks, a strategy designed by Jo Boaler to develop number sense by asking students to think in many ways about seemingly easy problems involving basic computations or drawings that can be pulled apart and thought about in many ways. This was the first time that most of us gave a dot talk in front of students (I theoretically did this in grad school, which is a hazy shade of two summers ago). Students were able to share the different ways they saw dots in a picture. Lots of room for growth when we continue next week, though.

Photo #6: The Selfish Shellfish Selfie (Day 2)

When I wrote "selfie" on the board

Evidence that, in building language skills, we did talk about selfish versus shellfish versus selfie (and penguins, which were in one of the videos we watched). I just had to share (…because to do otherwise would be shellfish).