Hurricane Florence Reflections: Precalculus and SBG

Screen Shot 2018-09-14 at 8.53.42 AMIt has been exactly one year since my math department began a discussing the grading practices in our Precalculus course.  For many students, this is their first math course requires writing, as well as rigor.  I had a student say to me this week that they know the foundational topics in Math 1, 2, and 3, but not to the depth that our Precalculus course uses them.   This is part of the learning curve in our course.  This brings for many students the first time that they don’t have a 99% average in their math course.  I had students tell me last school year that they NEED an A, not an A-.  The depth, the writing, and the grade challenge of the course brought stress upon students.  Also, to add into the mix of all that, a difference in grading philosophies within our math department. All of this led our department on a year long trek to Standards Based Grading.

It has officially been 4 weeks since the first day of school for the 2018-2019 school year.  In NC, we are currently experiencing Hurricane Florence and school is closed for the next two days.   This morning I have found my brain reflecting on the use of Standards Based Grading in my Precalculus over the past month

I can officially say that I am IN LOVE with Standards Based Grading! With that said, I am NOT an expert in this philosophy of grading by any means.

I use a rubric to grade the students on daily practice (formerly known as homework), and a weekly concept quiz.

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This rubric has brought so much freedom in my grading!  In past years, every step in a problem had to have a point value.  If my precalculus student added the 3 instead of subtracting the three, there was a penalty.  If they didn’t reduce the fractional answer, there was a penalty.  The grading was so tedious.  The students felt like failures because I would mark every little mistake.  I still make corrections on their papers now, but they can still get a 2 on using function notation if they don’t reduce their fractional answer.

On the second concept quiz day, I had a student say to me that she realized there was nothing to be stressed over for quiz day.  She said getting a 1 as a score was easier to process than getting a B on the quiz.  She knew that she would see the question type come around three times on the concept quizzes.  If she still didn’t get a 2 after three tries, then she could request a student initiated reassessment.  She appreciates the low pressure grading on her.

I thought that the weekly concept quizzes might be burdensome to me due to writing one each week, on the contrary it hasn’t been. These concept quizzes are short.  The students have 30 minutes to complete them.  I then have the 30 minutes after for my creativity.

These weekly concept quizzes have eliminated test review days.   Last year, almost every unit had two days for review.   I have gained two hours per unit for instructional use by eliminating review days.  The students are reviewing on their own weekly because the concept quizzes build every week.  They have to be prepared to answer any question from day one of the class until current day in the class.  I also try to do an after quiz activity that reviews previously taught material.

Activity #1

Screen Shot 2018-09-14 at 9.21.07 AMThe first activity that the students did was Graphing Stories in Desmos Activity Builder. There were two goals in mind in using this activity.  I used the activity to help the students begin to visual the path of the graphs and what they symbolize.  This goal of the activity was used to prepare them for reviewing all the parent functions the following day in class.  Goal two was to review from the week before how to determine the intervals that the graph is increasing or decreasing, as well as if the graph had concavity.  I also asked them to recall what about the rate of change caused these graph characteristics to occur.

Activity #2

For the second activity the students worked to complete a logic puzzle.  I have two sections of Precalculus so I gave a different puzzle to each class.  I didn’t want the morning class to tell the afternoon class how to solve the puzzle.  I found these puzzles from a post that Sarah Carter shared on her blog.

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The morning class tried to solve the 8 Letter Squares paper fold.  It took me several tries, sharing the activity with two of my coworkers, then finally figuring it out over lunch to get the solution.  One of my students solved the paper fold with in FIVE MINUTES!  The class couldn’t believe it!  By lunch I had students that I didn’t know coming me with the paper fold, telling that one of my students shared it with them, and asking if they solved it correctly.  I wasn’t expecting to get a response like this, and it was exciting.

The afternoon class worked on the color square in groups of 2.  The atmosphere in the room was exciting.  There was a constant hum of talking and discussing of ideas.  I had two groups solve the puzzle, but in different ways within the 30 minutes allotted.  The students asked if in a few weeks they could do the activity that the morning class completed.


Activity #3

This activity came on the week after we had reviewed all the parent functions, vertical shifts/reflections/compressions/stretches, as well as horizontal shifts and reflections.  I learned about Sean Sweeney’s Marbleslides at TMC this summer and found them very addictive myself. My students really got into the activity as well.  Sean just released a new set of challenges this week!


I used the new pacing feature that Desmos added back in the summer.  I let the students work through the first two challenges on their own.  I took snap shots of those and we talked about the different visions within class of how the students saw each challenge before I let them move on.

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I plan to do the activity again now that we have reviewed piecewise functions and require them to add in domain restrictions with the functions.

In three weeks, the students will take a Mid-Term.  This will be their first big assessment.  I am anxious to see if and how the weekly quizzes affects how much time they need to prepare and their score on the assessment.


Math Failures …

When I was at my summer PD, you can read about that here, I walked into a classroom and saw on one of the walls a sign that said, “Math Failures”.  My heart immediately sank when I read the words.  My head immediately thought that papers of student mistakes were posted there for the class to see.  I talked myself off of the ledge.  There surely can’t still be math teachers out in the world trying to shame their students for their mistakes.

I asked my friend who was in the session with me what she thought it meant, and she thought it came from Sara Van Der Werf‘s blog.  (If you don’t currently follow her on Twitter or her blog, then you need too!)  When I went to her blog and read her post on Math Failures, I knew that I had to incorporate this into my classroom somehow.

I didn’t want to ask my administrative assistant to print 180 color copies on her printer for me, so I decided to make a PowerPoint.  I found my pictures from Google images, Sara Van Der Werf, and my favorite musician David Crowder.  David will post on Twitter and Instagram funny images or math failures daily.

Everyday there will be a math failure or funny math joke showing when the students walk into my class.  A majority of them will promote mathematical discourse.  A yearly discussion that I have with my colleague is concerning the use of the equal sign in student work.

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I plan to do a stand and talk with this image to help the students understand the proper use of the equal sign.  I will prompt them with the question, “What do you notice? What do you wonder?”  I have seen this misunderstanding with Algebra 1 students all the way up to my Precalculus students.

I also pulled in some graphs that are misleading. A colleague from the science department at my school lead a PD session for the faculty last year concerning this.  I realized that I have never discussed this with my students.  If I want to help them in being educated, contributing, world citizens, then this is something I should discuss with them.  These would also be good to use for a Stand and Talk as well.

Finally, there are some images that are just for fun and hopefully will make the students laugh.

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I realized that by showing these images and getting my students to discuss them will help me with a goal that I set for myself.  One of my professional goals for the 2018-2019 school year comes from NCTM’s 5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Discussions.  My focus will be on the selecting and sequencing steps.   I will be writing more about this on my blog through the school year.

Here is the link to the PowerPoint.

The Journey Begins

I had a blog about ten years ago.  I mainly wrote about being a stay at home mom to three boys 4 years old and under while also being the wife of a pastor.  So why start one again, and what will it be about after all these years?  After attending a summer math PD, I felt it was time to start a blog about my classroom and teaching.  I came up with the name because I love to teach math, I am an algebra teacher at heart, and I LOVE to laugh!

I cherish and long for the moments when I laugh so hard and long that my cheeks begin to hurt.  I can remember the last time that happened was on July 12, 2012, but then came Twitter Math Camp July 2018.  My first night at TMC, I attended a Happy Hour sponsored by Desmos.  I am grateful to Marsha and Bob for giving me a “laugh until my cheeks hurt” moment and for making me feel so welcomed.  The picture is evidence of the moment.

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TMC is a grassroots  conference for math teachers, run by math teachers, and workshop facilitators that are math teachers.  This is the PD that you have always wanted and dreamed of.

Thursday morning was the official kickoff to camp.  I attended the First Timers session.  Julie made sure that everyone was actually on Twitter, LOL.  We spent the next 20 minutes Speed Dating.  We walked the room meeting someone we didn’t know, we got to know them, and then followed each other on Twitter.  I have never made so many new friends so fast in my life! I am an introvert by nature!  A top moment for me at TMC came when I met Jennifer during Speed Dating.  We were a match made in math heaven!  I was shocked to learn that she lives in a town in NC that is close to my heart and that my family visits often.

Morning Sessions

For the conference you chose one session to attend for the three mornings.  These are two hours sessions so that you gain a deeper learning and connections with people.  I attended How Does Desmos Love Teachers?  Let Me Count The Ways! with Anna.  I was a little nervous at the beginning because we had a small crowd, but the three days ended being exactly what I needed.  Anna did a great job teaching us how to facilitate a Desmos lesson, how to find activities, and how to make our own activites.

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My Favorites

Twice a day, in the morning and after lunch, was a session of My Favorites.  This is like a speed dating of math ideas.  I was taking notes like crazy!  During this time anyone at the conference can present a favorite thing that they do in their classroom.  The highlights for me were Dave sharing about his blog with guest teachers, Chris with his box problem, Jonathan sharing how he gives high gives to students thanks to Glenn,  Mark stands in the hall every Friday with a bluetooth speaker and plays music between class changes, and Anna sharing the free software that makes math puzzles.

Afternoon Sessions

On Thursday afternoon I went to Sean’s session on Marbleslides.  He creates obstacles in Desmos.  The students have to place equations in to get the marbles to roll in the correct direction. I am addicted to these almost as much as I used to be addicted to Sudoku.

Friday, I had a absolute blast learning Calculus For The Algebra Teacher lead by Jonathan.  He took us through a crash course on the 2.5 topics that Calculus is about: Derivatives, Integrals, and Limits.  He used basic Algebra principals such as slope and point-slope formulas to explain Calculus.  I wised he would have been my college professor!

My afternoon session highlight on Saturday came from Sarah. I was just excited to be in the same room with her after following her for years on Twitter. She is a walking wealth of math education knowledge. I attended her session on The H Word, which is homework.  Her session has sent my brain into reevaluating how I assign homework and what kinds of homework. She gives homework, which she calls daily practice,  every night except for the last night day of school.  The homework should not take longer than 20 minutes, or the students can stop at that point. She does not accept late work, the homework should never be problems that teacher wouldn’t even work, and it should not count for more than 20% of student’s grade.  Sarah left us with two questions when thinking of homework, ‘What is your goal?” and “What is your purpose?”.

Evening Time

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Before I left for TMC, I was dreading the evening times.  I was going knowing one person well and three people moderately well, but all four of them know each other well. I was worried about who I would eat dinner with and hang out with after hours. I loved that TMC helped to take care of this problem for me.  Thursday night I attended the first timers dinner, Friday night I attended Trivia Night, and Saturday night I ended up hanging out with friends that I made at camp.


TMC does a wonderful job of making the newbies feel included.  When the experienced campers are standing and talking they stand in a Pac-Man formation.  This always leaves an open spot for someone to join.  I constantly had to remind my self that I already have at least one thing in common with every one at the camp before meeting them, and that is the love of math education. Screen Shot 2018-07-31 at 3.24.30 PM