Back to School in Secondary Math Roundup

It's that time of year again!  I've compiled four of my favorite back to school posts in one place so it's easy to browse and explore.  These ideas are intended to inspire and prepare secondary math teachers as we begin to formulate our plans for back to school.  Use the comments section to let me know what you'll be trying out this year!

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9 Alternative Ways to Use OMG Cards

Old Math Guy is a super fun math card game.  Students love to play this engaging game in small groups.  You can learn more about the original game in this post.  This particular post is all about 9 alternative ways to use your OMG cards. Here are some ideas for switching it up:

1) Memory Game

Students can use these cards to play a memory game in pairs.  Turn all cards over and students can take turns turning two cards over to try and find pairs.  Unlike traditional memory games, the “pairs” are not the SAME, but they do MATCH.  For example, one card could be a graph and another is an equation but they represent the same function.  Or they could be algebraic expressions represented two different ways (factored and unfactored).  In the photo below, students find matching pairs involving square and cube roots.  This game promotes memory skills as well as math skills.  You could even include the two versions of the actual Old Math Guy in the game just for fun!

2) Matching Activity

Give a pair or small group a deck of OMG cards and have them lay out the cards face up.  Then students can work together to find the “matches.”  This activity promotes great math discussions, and may help work through student misconceptions.  You could incorporate requirements such as (1) students must take turns finding a match or (2) once you find a match, you must show your group and say why it is a match.  In the photo below, students find matching pairs of linear graphs and equations in slope intercept form.

3) Flash Cards

This activity may require a little creative assembly and prep time.  Attach the pairs front and back so one side will be the “question” and the other side will be the “answer.”  Students can quiz each other or quiz themselves.  This could be a great tool to send home for extra practice.  I create the flashcards shown below by gluing the pairs front to back.

Who doesn’t love a good set of task cards?  Number the two-way tables 1-19.  Once the cards are numbered, cut them up so students can focus on one problem at a time.  This is an effective activity for struggling or anxious learners.  Check out this post for more ideas on how to use task cards in your math classroom.

5) Self-Checking Worksheet

Print out the pages to use as worksheets.  Fold the worksheets the “hot dog way” with the problems facing out.  Students look at one side and complete those problems.  By unfolding, they can check their own answer.  This can also be used as a study tool.  The example below demonstrates identifying slope from a linear equation.

6) Exit Tickets

Cut up the cards and pass out for students to complete at the end of a class period.  Data, data, data!  By using similar problems for a few days and recording the results, you will identify measurable growth and see which students still require intervention.  To track data, I use an Excel spreadsheet.  All students' names are listed down the first column.  Then each subsequent column tracks daily exit tickets, and indicates whether students were correct or incorrect.

7) Cut-and-Paste Activity

This might also require a bit of creativity to make work, but it will pay off!  Print just the top row of problems.  (You can use a blank piece of paper to cover up the bottom row.)  Print the bottom row separately.  Cut out the bottom row cards.  Students will arrange the bottom row to match up pairs.  They can glue down the cards when they are confident in their answers.

8) At-Home Practice

Send the cards home!  When playing Old Math Guy with a parent or parents, it may be smart to remove some of the pairs and play the game with a smaller deck.  This is great for remote or distance learning!  You can also refer parents to this YouTube video that explains how to play the game.

9) Partner Search

These cards can be used as a fun way to randomly partner up students.  Pass out one card per student.  Then students move around the room to find the student with a “matching” card.

Phew!  So keep playing Old Math Guy with your students, but try some of these activities to switch it up.  Let me know what you try and how it works out!

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Benefits of Partners in Secondary Math: Remote Learning Edition

There are many benefits to pairing students up to practice math.  Previously I’ve written about positives such as peer teaching, increased confidence, increased class engagement, break from direct instruction, and face-to-face communication.  (You can read the original post here.)  Face-to-face communication??  With the rise of Covid-19 and remote learning, I really want to address the role partners can play in math class for the new world we live in today.

Students benefit from hearing ideas from other students, and using that information to further their own understanding.  It’s too easy for that communication to be lost during remote learning when everything is digital.  However, we can establish a version of classroom discussion using various platforms.  At the beginning of distance learning my district used Moodle, which happened to have a discussion platform built in.  One way that I utilized this forum was to post a video and have students respond to some prompts.  Then they were required to come back and provide meaningful responses to their peers.  For example, I posted a video demonstrating the Pythagorean Theorem.  (It’s actually really cool!  Check it out here.)  Students were then asked to explain how the video demonstrated that a2+b2=c2 using vocabulary like hypotenuse, legs, right triangle, squares, etc.  Then students commented on at least one other post with a question or specific comment to keep the conversation going.  Not one student alone used all the vocabulary and grasped every part of the key idea; however, together they build on each other’s ideas enough to come up with something grand.

You probably don’t have access to Moodle (yay if you do!). There are plenty of other resources out there that will allow you to establish a similar online discussion.

Kialo is a free website established for educators to facilitate logical, compelling debate arguments.  I can imagine this would be great for debating ideas such as: “Does 0.999...=1?” or “Why is any number raised to the zero power 1?” or “Can you take the square/cube root of a negative number?”  These are interesting mathematical ideas that students can present their argument with evidence and contradict others’ points using counterexamples.  Engaging and dynamic!

YO Teach! is a free backchannel tool that facilitates discussion between teachers and students in an online classroom environment.  Once you’ve established a teacher’s account you can set up different “rooms” for your classes or small groups to hold discussions.

GoSoapBox is another free backchannel tool that is awesome for gauging student understanding.  It includes a feature that gives teachers real-time information about student comprehension.  It also allows for discussion posts and polls.

Google Drive is an awesome resource for partner collaboration whether students are in the classroom or are distance learning from home.  It is very easy to share documents through the website by using email.  I was very lucky to gain access to Google Classroom while remote learning through my school district.  However, even without Google Classroom, teachers can share an assignment document that can be completed online.  Students can “share” the Google Doc to work together.  All changes that either user makes can be seen immediately by all parties on the document.  Best of all, Google Docs is a free app that can be accessed from any device with internet and web browser.  This tool is very intuitive and really easy for students and teachers to learn.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I find 1-on-1 Zoom calls a little awkward.  I’m sure students feel that way too. Providing support 2-on-1 can make everyone feel more comfortable.  The pressure is taken off each individual student because they can rely on each other to ask questions and respond to feedback.  If two students are struggling with the same concept, teachers can address concerns of both students at the same time.  If two students are struggling with different topics, then the student who is struggling has the benefit of learning from both the teacher and the peer.  This is an awesome opportunity for the student to hear an explanation more than one way.  Also, the student who is helping to “teach” or address a misconception is developing a stronger understanding of the topic themselves just by going through the process of explaining.

Things are different now.  Whether you are distance learning, in the classroom, or embracing a hybrid model, peer teaching is still important.  It can feel very isolating to be learning from home or from six feet apart.  Finding ways to incorporate discussion helps with the social aspect of learning.  Having the ability to discuss assignments with peers before submitting leads to increased confidence (and probably better answers!)  Trying some of these apps will lead to increased class engagement and a break from direct (remote) instruction.  And I am so thankful for Zoom bringing us face-to-face communication.  Hang in there, teachers!

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“Math requires pencil and paper.”

“I am the least techy math teacher there has ever been.”

“I am not hopping on this digital trend.”

These are all comments made frequently by yours truly.  Enter Covid-19.  On a dime, like many of you, I was thrown into the world of Remote Learning with zero time to prepare.  We started off the crazy journey using Moodle.  Then just when I got the hang of that, they switched us over to Google Classroom.  Truly, technology is not my “thing.”  However, I adapted, as teachers must, and spent the remaining months of school making videos and communicating through video chats and emails.

First, let me explain why I was so opposed to digital learning in pre-Covid times.  (That’s definitely a thing now, right?).  There is plenty of brain-based research out there that demonstrates a correlation between math success and pencil-and-paper learning.  The process of writing out steps helps solidify knowledge for students.

See this article at edutopia.org if you’re interested in researching this further.

I am pro pencil-and-paper for brain-based research reasons.  Also, I’m just not that techy so I have never made it a priority.  I know it’s a bit ironic considering I teach math, love science, and run my own blog and online business.  However, it’s true.  When it’s math time I’m all about my Bic 0.9 lead mechanical pencil… or, of course, a dry erase marker.

And then there’s the educational pendulum that drives me absolutely crazy.  I, personally, consistently live in the middle.  The pendulum swings way too far in either direction for me.  I’m not going to buy into 1-to-1 math tech initiatives the same way I’m not for 100% sticking to the textbook with notes and practice.  I believe in a balanced approach to teaching mathematics – which includes using a variety of methods and materials.

Wait, isn’t this a post about going digital?

YUP!  Covid-19 made me do it.  However, I knew from the start that I wanted to be really deliberate about how I ventured down the technology path.

Avoid activities with too much “fluff.”  How can we use technology in a meaningful way that helps students practice and utilize math skills while demonstrating mastery?  Ensure that the focus of the activity remains on the math skills itself.

I believe strongly that the activities I was using with my students in the classroom were working really well.  Students were engaged and demonstrating competency.  I didn’t want to venture too far from the things I already used with confidence.

I need activities where I can see my students work, and therefore, their mathematical thinking.  Even when remote, it’s important to continue to “see” the steps one way or another.

Alas, Digital Scavenger Hunts were born!  Digital Scavenger Hunts are based on the super popular Scavenger Hunts.  They share the premise that one answer leads to the next problem and that answers leads to the next and so on.  Digital Scavenger Hunts are created in Google Sheets and feature a drag-and-drop setup.  Students follow the path from start to finish to complete the scavenger hunt.  There’s also a slide included where students can type their work out (yuck) or upload a photo of their handwritten steps.  These activities are self-checking (as there is only one correct order).  And it’s awesome for teachers because we can still see their thinking and identify any misconceptions.  Win-win!

There’s a quick little YouTube video here that demonstrates how the activity works.

So after years of kicking and screaming to avoid technology, I am ready to go digital!  As long as I’m doing so in a meaningful way, with proven resources, and my students are still using pencil-and-paper to promote brain-based learning, I'm ready!

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