Graphing Calculator Intro

I fired off the above tweet to kick off the Explore #MTBoS Week 2 Challenge. It was great fun to discover some Swedish fish lovers I was already following, and some new #MTBoS tweeps who are also Patriots fans.

But for this week’s challenge, I am going to write about how my tweeps came through for me a few weeks ago! We use TI graphing calculators on an almost daily basis in my Honors Algebra 1 class. For most of my students, this is the first time they have used a graphing calculator. On September 9th, I decided that the perfect activity for my next lesson, would be to do a graphing calculator scavenger hunt. The thought of creating this from scratch seemed daunting with everything else I had going on that day, so I tweeted the following:

Here are some of the replies I received:

Rachel emailed me her document, which I edited and turned into a scavenger hunt introduction to the graphing calculators. I’ve used Jen’s resources to help students with additional graphing calculator tasks, and found so many great links from the MathForumBooth. I am so thankful for my twitter friends!

Here is the updated document. Please comment and let me know if there are any additional scavenger hunt tasks you think should be included in next year’s version!

Open Response Questions

I recently submitted my SMART goals to my evaluator using TeachPoint. Last year I wrote about my student learning goal, and thought I would share this year’s as well.

Our school is in the process of implementing the “Using Data Process” from Research for Better Teaching. We’ve spent some PD time diving into our MCAS results (the MA Standardized test) and trying to identify student learning problems. One that my colleagues and I recognize, is the gap between average open response question scores between our students who pass with proficiency, and those who do not. The average open response score was a 1.7 for my students who scored failure/needs improvement, while the average score was 3.1 for my students who scored proficient and advanced. There are six open response questions on the test, which makes for a pretty big gap when you multiply it out. Therefore, my SMART goal for the year:

I will incorporate MCAS open response questions on in-class assignments, homework, and assessments so that 80% of my Honors Algebra 1 students will score a 3 or 4 (using the DESE rubric) on at least two MCAS Open Response questions by the end of the 2013-2014 academic year.

I am going to record students’ scores using an Excel document, provide written feedback to students, and have students peer/self assess on some of the questions. I’m also going to try to figure out why the scores are so much lower. Do students not understand the questions or not know how to do it? Are they simply leaving the open response questions blank? Are they only answering part of the questions? I’m not sure that I’ll be able to answer all of these, but I’m hoping to find some insight over the course of the year.

One of my predictions is that students are not fully answering the questions and explaining all of their work. Since I don’t want students to feel like they are doing MCAS questions all the time, we can practice this skill when doing any of our other activities. We’ll focus on explaining what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and probing students to dig deeper. And that’s on me to ask the right questions.

Traffic Jam Problem

For the Explore #MTBoS Week 1 Challenge, I am going to write about one of my favorite rich problems: The Traffic Jam Problem.

The problem is that there are six people and seven stepping stones. The three people on the left must switch places with the three people on the right. You can only jump one person at a time and you can only move in one direction. The Math Forum provides a great explanation of the challenge and rules.

I do this problem with my students in between our linear and quadratic functions units. I place colored paper on the floor in the front of the classroom to represent the stones and start with two student volunteers, usually one boy and one girl so it is easier to follow along as they switch places. Then we build up to two boys and two girls switching places. When the class is determined that we have done this in the fewest possible moves, I send everyone back to their seats and pass out these simple game boards and bags with 6 hershey kisses (3 each of two different colors) to each set of partners.

The hershey kisses could be substituted by any other manipulative, but it’s very important that the students can physically move around some pieces to try to solve this. This is the really fun part. There is usually a loud mix of excitement and frustration. Some students will begin to solve it and others will keep making the same wrong moves and get stuck. I ask all students to show me their solution, so I allow them to use their phones to film it so they don’t forget. If students finish quickly, I give them two more hershey kisses and let them try the next round.

On the whiteboard, we make a chart with columns for # of people, # of pairs of people, and # of moves. As a whole class we find a pattern and equation that represents the data. Most students try to make a linear equation fit the data at first, so it’s a fun way to introduce quadratics.