Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Algebra & Mathemagic

The 7th graders recently started studying algebraic expressions.  We started with combining like terms with a heavy emphasis on algebra tiles.  This really helps the 7th graders make it visual.  So we spent a couple days playing around with the algebra tiles and combining like terms.  All this sets the stage for


So we started today's class with a little "my favorite mistake" to review expressions.
The students then we told "we are going to have a little contest."

  • Students were asked to pick a number from 0-50.  
  • I told the students they would be asked to perform 5 steps with the number.
  • At the end of the steps, whichever student was closest to the "magic number" would win.
  • The students were instructed to keep their numbers a secret.  
  • The students then performed the following steps.
    • Add 5 to your number
    • Double the result
    • Subtract 4 from the result
    • Divide the result by 2
    • Subtract the number you originally chose
  • The instructions were given slowly, deliberately, and in a way that increases the drama
  • (really the slowness is to make sure students are doing their arithmetic correctly)
  • After the final step, students are instructed to keep their final number a secret
  • The magic number is then revealed by playing this video
Watching the joy cross the faces of the students as they realize their number is the magic number, and then the subsequent confusion is priceless.  They are completely hooked by these magical results.  Every student (no matter what number they picked) ends up with an answer of 3.

I then challenge students to think of a number that will break this trick.  Students vary in their suggestions but the fun ones include super large numbers, decimals, and negative numbers.  Today I had 1,000,000,001 suggested along with -2.51515.  By allowing the students to chose the numbers they are more invested in the process and it really hits home that "any number" ends up with an answer of 3.
After the students realize they can not "break the trick" we break down the trick with algebra tiles.  We walk through each step and perform the operation with algebra tiles.

This is pretty much the end of day 1.

The next couple days are spent practicing number tricks with algebra tiles and eventually being able to seamlessly manipulate algebraic expressions without algebra tiles.

The lesson is loosely based off of a CPM lesson.


Sunday, September 7, 2014

No Grades for Homework...

We just finished up our third week of school on Friday.  I recently wrote about my first week of school where we talked about the brain, mindset, and multiple intelligences.  During that week I mentioned several times that homework this year will not be a part of the grade.  The first week of school is always a tidal wave of information for students.  Our school is rolling out a 1:1 program this year, so that kind of doubles the first week information.

So I was helping some 8th grade students with their homework this week, which was tough, and a student asked me "what grade do I get for this?"  I said "what do you mean?"  They responded "you know how many points do I get?"  I reminded him that homework does not actually count towards their quarter grade.  Homework is for practice.  I had about 10-15 kids in the room at that time.  About half said "Oh yeah, I remember that."  About a quarter of them said "Really?!"  Then the last group said "What?!?!  Then why am I doing this?!?!?"  One girl even marched out of the room in a hissy fit.  

I noticed that the majority of my 7th graders knew, and my 8th graders had forgotten or never heard that in the first place.  So that day I talked about it again with the 8th grade students.  During 8th grade math I reminded all the students that HW does not count towards your final grade.  Some asked "So do we have to do all of it?"  I fell back on the practice vs game analogy as that is probably the easiest way to explain to students the point that homework is for practice to make yourself better.  The game is what decides the level of our success.  I asked them if they would look at their coach and say "do we have to do this?" or even walk out of practice when it was half done.  They agreed that that would be silly.  

I give one weekly homework assignment.  It is based around basic applications of the ideas we are doing in class.  I always give two choices of problems to do as well, an "A-level" and a 'B-level."  I use class time for the upper end of Bloom's.  I am tracking their scores on HW so I can report to parents.  The scores do show up in their online gradebook with a weight of zero (which probably caused some of the confusion).  

I am wondering what will happen to their scores now that they think "homework doesnt count."  Just how successful will I be in trying to instill an intrinsic motivation to get homework done.  Will some of them ever see that they are doing homework to help make them better?  

Also I am just waiting for the parent wave of questions, comments and complaining.  I do send out a weekly newsletter via email.  I did address it in the newsletter.  I also made a video explaining how grading works in my room and why homework is not counted in the grade.  However after sending out the email to over 100 sets of parents, I got exactly 2 views.  So I need to rethink that strategy.  I did put the video on the front page of my website.