# The kids were a bit unruly today…

I take that unruliness as a challenge to work on a more engaging experience for them. Today I was teaching polynomial expression operations, which is, admittedly, one of the more nuts and bolts type of topics and not terribly exciting math. This blog post is about how to find ways to raise the engagement on some of the dryer topics that we cover.

And, what’s ‘dry’ to me means that I can’t readily think of great activities, applications, or problems that engage.

To create a higher level of interest is to create a higher engagement level. This means less need for a disciplined atmosphere centered on direct instruction when the kids are just not in the mood. Which is often in my 5th period (after lunch) class.

The kids are energetic, they are social and they are comfortable enough that they interrupt, throw stuff and eat candy, throwing the wrappers on the floor, sometimes near the garbage can. God bless ’em. 🙂 I really do love these kids and I have fun with them. BUT, I do have a hard time getting through direct instruction for 20-30 minutes, so it drags out longer, which makes it even tougher for me and for them. Way too much!! Especially for the half of the class that is quietly waiting to get through a concept or problem.

Let me say, direct instruction has it’s place, but it’s not working well for me with this group. So, I need options. First stop: Desmos. What great activities already exist for us?

So many! Here’s a link to the classroom activities that come up when I search on Polynomial Functions: http://bit.ly/2drqtGd and a screen shot of the list. If you haven’t already, please set up a teacher account at Create Desmos Teacher Account and get inspired!

It think for polynomial function operations, though, I’m not really seeing anything that I could use. Bummer. Hmm… Let me think about a flipped approach.

What if I had thought sooner about this being a dryer topic and had planned in advance? I might have had student preview the material, using a YouTube video or checking out Flipped Math’s Algebra 2 topics. Ah, yes, there it is. Here’s a screen shot of the webpage with a video lesson and some links at the bottom, where kids can print the notes sheet or do an assignment. In the past I’ve printed the notes sheet ahead of time, made copies and distributed them during the previous class.

At the site, you can click the Semester 2 tab, then click polynomial functions, there’s a lesson for operations. The site provides a student note page that students can print and fill out while they watch the video. This way, they have guided notes, they can go at their own pace, and they can ask questions when they get to class. In class, we can quickly summarize the key concepts and ask questions. They can do that in groups, or as a whole class.

Would this really help in terms of engagement? Well, hard to say, but at least I wouldn’t be trying to hold their attention so long when it’s just physically hard for them to stay tuned. They would get a very similar experience of direct instruction, just when they are not in a group with their friends after lunch on a warm day. So, I think it’s an improvement, but it’s not exactly innovative or exciting.

Next, if I do the flipped math for instruction, what activity could I have this energetic group do during class? One option is some sort of matching activity. But, wouldn’t it be better to do a live matching activity where they are the variables? Like, everyone gets to be a cubed-x or a squared-x or a single-x or a constant term? Then, I could write problems on the board and they could group themselves as the equation and solution, and maybe make a video, and maybe put it on YouTube and maybe I could tweet it and blog about it. 🙂 Wow, I’m gonna do that next time.

Another option is to create some open questions. Ways to do this include using some closed questions, like most of the text book questions and simply withholding some of the information and/or instructions, then ask students what are we going to try to solve and what information do you need?

If only I had thought ahead. Well, for me, next time as I look ahead in my planning, I’m going to be a bit more proactive for the sake of this particular class.

Direct instruction + Dry topic = Headache by the end of the block. Never again. 🙂

# Flipped Circles Unit in Geometry

I made a run at a flipped unit for my Geometry classes. I’ve done flipped lessons and some flipped units before, with pretty good results, so I felt good about putting this unit together. To see the plan, click HERE and click on the link for the unit plan at the top of my page. It will download a word doc which is editable and has links to the tutorial videos.

Why I did it:

1. I knew I’d be taking a bunch of sub days, for various reasons. And, I wasn’t totally sure when they would all be. Some were known, others were a bit up in the air.
2. There have been and would continue to be many student absences. We have a bunch of field trips scheduled during March and April, then special testing in May. Plus, it seems it’s just been a bad flu year, too.
3. I want to expose students to lesson resources beyond just their teacher (me) because I think it will good for them to have more places to find information. Especially in light of our limited time together, thanks to reasons 1 and 2.
4. When students have seen some of the concepts before class, they are more prepared when they are first discussed in class. They’ve had time to digest some of the information.
5. When they have more class time to work problems and do activities, there is more of a chance that they will be able to ask questions with peers and with me. And, there is more chance that more students will complete most assignments.
6. With more time for activities and interesting problems, our classroom climate is stronger. We all become learners and can ease some pressure and stress.

FYI, reasons 1-3 were my immediate concerns, but 4-6 are the reasons I’ve used flipped teaching in the past.

What happens:

Ideally, students watch a video lesson before coming to class. Then, the key points are summarized in class and students have more time in class to complete problem sets or other activities. It can be as traditional or project or problem based as the instructor determines.

I purposefully excluded Mondays as due dates. These are built in buffer days. They can be used for getting caught up after absences, explorations, team activities, short assessments, etc….

How I did it:

Well, I pretty much followed the topics in the order of the text, except for the first couple of sections. I merged and re-ordered those a bit. Some might be critical of following the text, but I think for the circumstances and reasons for the unit, it was a good approach. This way the students and substitute teachers have something to go by.

I would seek out videos on Khanacademy or YouTube, with YouTube really being my go to resource for video lessons. I would review them and go with the ones that I felt were most similar to the content and terminology of the text and my own vocabulary. I would try to find different instructors, so that kids could see the assortment out there.

When kids come to class I know they haven’t all watched the video. I’m not worried about that, because it’s meant to be an introduction and I equate with the fact that not all kids will get all their homework done, no matter what it is.

So, I ask the students what they remember from the video. We talk about vocabulary, and keep track of formulas. Then I supplement with more information and we do a couple of examples together.

Students spend the rest of the class working on an assignment. They have more time to work on it, because there’s been less time spent on whole class instruction. And, I have more time to get to students, group or partner them and have a better knowledge of what they understand well, and where they still need guidance.

Having Mondays left with no due dates was an unexpected gem. I think it’s a great take away in terms of leaving some breathing room in the plan. On a regular week at our school, every class meets on Mondays. Then, you see the students two more times for a 90 minute period. Absences are a real killer. Mine and theirs. For our school, flipped teaching (especially for math) makes a lot of sense.

What the plan doesn’t show:

Engaging openers and open questions. It’s so important to include these during class. There’s a book called 501 Geometry Questions. There are some great questions in there. We focus on HOW to solve problems. They are great to use for creating open questions. You can omit some information, or they may spark creativity to generate open question.

Assessment schedule: yeah, no planned quizzes in there. I really wasn’t sure when I’d be there. So, I left that a bit open. The kids don’t seem to mind. Because of the break next week, I may just do a project type assessment after the break. I plan to figure that out during the break. Sometimes, I have them take partner quizzes. They like those, because I tell them if something isn’t quite right. They go back and try again. Usually with some serious debate and excitement.

How I’ll make it better:

Before class: Someday, I’d like to have my own videos. But, that would defeat the value of reason 3 above (expose them to other resources).

During class: I’d also like them to have a more organized place for a running list of formulas, etc. And/or, hand out a practice test or something, so they can “document” their learning at certain points.

Also, I’d like to modify the assignment instructions so they have a choice over which problems they are working. I’d like to assign 20 and tell them to complete 15, of their choice, and let them know which ones are more straight forward, and which ones are more challenging.

After class: Move closer to a 2-4-2 homework model with the flipped lesson.

I’d also like to find a better way to regularly assess than the the big unit test on a certain date. I do that with quizzes, of course (not for this unit, granted), but I still would like an assessment that’s more interesting than that. At least sometimes. So, for this unit, I’ll be doing that over the break, and can add it to the plan for next year.