Monthly Archives: March 2013

Taboo – Quadratic Functions

The Overview

Improve student literacy by focusing in on the math terms surrounding quadratic functions, and then play Taboo using those terms.

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The Description

Warning:  Your students will have a lot of fun with this.

Taboo is a game where you try to get your team members to say the word on your card, but there are a list of restricted words that you cannot use in your descriptions.

I read Fawn Nygun’s Taboo activity and I wanted to do it with my class.  I love how she implemented it by having her students create the cards.  But I decided to control the words in Taboo by creating the cards myself.  This allowed me to scaffold it by first focusing on improving student literacy on the words that I had put into the game.

To scaffold the words that were going into Taboo I decided to use Frayer Models.  I created the packet “My book of Frayer Models” and we did two each day for a week.  It was a warmup activity that they did when they first walked into class, probably took 20 to 30 minutes each day.  Below is an example of one of the pages of a students Frayer Model book.  I would give students the page number where the word could be found in their textbook, and I had them do the model themselves while I did the routines of checking off homework and taking role.

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After I was done checking homework, taking role, I would randomly call on students and get my Frayer Model completed on the whiteboard.  Lastly for each Frayer Model, I would put the word on the whiteboard and ask students for key words that describe it.   This portion of the lesson acted as my substitute for when Fawn’s students wrote out their own taboo cards.  We were essentially writing out a Taboo card as a class, and it allowed me to see what words the students deemed important.

After we finished their book of Frayer Models – It was time for Taboo!

The taboo cards focus on quadratic functions.  I didn’t make them all related to quadratic functions in order to give students the illusion that the game was covering the entire book.  The restricted words were choosen to leave the door open for good mathematical descriptions and not make the game too difficult.  Thus for the word “parabola” I didn’t include “quadratic” as a restricted word.    For me, the restricted words were really meant to try and take away the cheap clues, rather than the good mathematical clues – like for instance with the card “Domain” I restricted “Range” but I did not restrict “x” or “value”.

The rules for Taboo were basically the same as Fawn’s, but here they are:

  1. Class is divided into 2 teams, Team X and Team Y.
  2. Team X goes first: two people from Team X come up to front.
  3. Skipping a word is not allowed.
  4. Team has 1 minute to get as many right as possible.
  5. No hand gestures.

The Keynote slides attached below have a description of how I explained the Taboo game to the students.

For the final round, I was describing each card and giving points to the team that could guess it first.

The Advice:

– I would let one student volunteer to come up and I would randomly select a second student to join them.  I had students who never volunteer for anything, volunteering for this.

– Ultimately if the students knew the goal of Taboo was to work vocabulary of quadratics, then they could just list off all those key words every round.  So it’s important to do the following two things in order to give the students the illusion that any term in the book is possible.

  1. Do not tell the students that they are going to use the terms from the Frayer Models to play Taboo.  Even though every term from the Frayer Models are in the game, the students don’t need to know that.  I even collected the Frayer Models to day before playing Taboo.
  2. Throw in some math terms that do not have to do with quadratics.

– Students liked to say things like “the opposite of” – so if you have a card for maximum, make sure minimum is a restricted word.

– Use the restricted words to keep students from being able to use a non-math description.

– Have your TA cutout the Taboo cards and glue them to playing cards.

The Results:

A high level of engagement.  Definitely an animated class and everyone enjoyed the activity.  Students were shouting out a lot of great vocabulary, and I felt good that the Frayer Models had given them improved math literacy.

The Goods:

BookOfFrayerModels

QuadraticTabooCards  (There are only enough cards here for 2 or 3 one minute rounds if you have two teams)

TabooSlides

You Are Not Your Lesson Plan

We spend lots of time and energy creating the best possible lessons that we can.  We get excited about them and feel good about them.  Thus many days, armed with well thought-out lessons, we achieve a measure of success in our classes.  But then there are those days when nothing works.  When the lesson we poured our energy into falls flat on the floor.   The kind of day when the lesson is getting disrupted by off-task students, and a carefully scaffolded intro leaves student after student saying “I don’t get it”, “what am I supposed to do?”.  The volume of off-task chatter rises and opens the door to increased behavior problems.  Behavior problems by the way, that are ripe for misintrepretation by the now frustrated teacher.

First thing to remember during these times – You are not your lesson plan.  Thus every student act of ignoring it, failing at it, brushing it aside, sleeping during it, distracting it, or any other negative, is not a personal affront to you.  That took me awhile to realize.  In my own practice, in the midst of my favorite lessons failing it would bring up anger and frustration, often towards the students who were most clearly rejecting me (of course they were not actually rejecting me, but hence the point of this post).

There are an array of reasons a lesson might fail, but you will be unable to properly diagnose any of them if you are angry.  Anything in your teaching practice that creates negative energy towards your students, your profession, or yourself, needs to be analyzed and reconstructed.   These negative emotions commonly end up concluding that the lesson failed because the students are lazy, don’t care or don’t pay attention.  Maybe they were or didn’t, but if that is the primary conclusion then you are overlooking a couple important facts:  First – there is a way to improve the lesson and those students are helping you discover it.  Secondly, deep down you were probably personally offended by the way the students interacted with your lesson, which is intimately connected to your identity as a teacher.  Thus you feel like a failure, and angry at those who exposed you.

Experience doesn’t necessarily help in this situation.  This problem of identifying with our lesson plans actually got worse for me as I became more experienced.  Because often at some point we as teachers, who pour ourselves into teaching, begin to recieve a fair amount of praise from adminstrators and students.  We start to look at ourselves as great teachers, which makes the day when that identity is challenged even more difficult to take.

So bottom line is this:  You aren’t your lesson plan.  Don’t take it personal.  If you have a lesson that collapses into failure don’t get upset, don’t get stressed out, don’t get frustrated.  Stay positve and do whatever you have to do in that moment to teach the best you can.  Afterwards,  I recommend you take a moment to reflect on what went right, what went wrong, and how it could be improved.  Make sure you properly file that reflection so you can use it the next time you plan the lesson.  After that, just finish the day and be done with it.

Parabola Review Worksheet

I created the following worksheet to help students review what they learned about identifying the different characteristics of a parabola.

ParabolasCharacteristics

After printing it out I decided that I wanted to make it an error analysis exercise instead, so I filled it out myself and made one or two mistakes for each parabola.   I had students put check marks by the correct answers, circle and fix the wrong answers.  Here’s that worksheet:

MathHustlaError

The Goods:

ParabolasCharacteristics

ParabolaCharacteristicsError

This Is Too Grand To Be Said

In college I had the honor of taking Elliot Aronson’s last Social Psychology class at UCSC.  He had been a professor there for many years and was going to take a position at Stanford.  The large lecture hall was packed for that last day, filled with his current and former students.  He ended the class by reading the final lines of  J.D. Salinger’s “Seymour, An Introduction”.  He got all choked up and started to cry midway through.  The passage itself is a wonderful reflection on life and teaching, and I get why Professor Aronson choose to end his last class with it.  Here is what he read to us that day:

“Nonetheless, I’m done here.  There are one or  two more fragmentary physical-type remarks I’d like to make, but I feel too strongly that my time is up.  Also, it’s twenty to seven, and I have a nine-o’clock class.  There’s just enough time for a half-hour nap, a shave, and maybe a cool, refreshing blood bath.  I have an impulse-more of an old urban reflex than an impulse, thank God- to say something mildly caustic about the twenty-four young ladies, just back from big weekends at Cambridge or Hanover or New Haven, who will be waiting for me in Room 307, but I can’t finish writing a description of Seymour-even a bad description, even one where my ego, my perpetual lust to share top billing with him, is all over the place-without being conscious of the good, the real.  This is too grand to be said (so I’m just the man to say it), but I can’t be my brother’s brother for nothing, and I know-not always, but I know-there is no single thing I do that is more important than going into that awful Room 307.  There isn’t one girl in there, including the Terrible Miss Zabel, who is not as much my sister as Boo Boo or Franny.  They may shine with the misinformation of the ages, but they shine.  This thought manages to stun me:  There’s no place I’d really rather go right now than into Room 307.  Seymour once said that all we do our whole lives is go from one little piece of Holy Ground to the next.  Is he never wrong?

I’m filing this post under classroom management because our own personal happiness as teachers is often the most important ingredient to a positive and productive classroom.