Second Breakfast: Day 41 Or Routine

A general outline of how I run my classes this year:

  1. Warm Up: I want these to be open-ended tasks that encourage students to talk and think about math. I want them to set the tone for the class, which means I don’t want to be harping on students or make them too hard that they feel lost. Every Wednesday the warm up is a Which One Doesn’t Belong and every Friday the Warm Up is a written reflection on the past week of math class.
  2. Homework Questions: I consider homework to be practice and I don’t want to grade practice. But I am expected to give credit for homework at the school. Luckily as a department we didn’t want to give too much credit for homework, so the department chose 3 points. I would have preferred 5 points but that’s a personal preference so the grade divides into 100 evenly, not a pedagogically sound preference. I give 3/3 if the kids turn something in and 0/3 if they don’t. I don’t check for accuracy, only attempt. However, I give homework quizzes each Monday (over the previous week’s homework) so I start every class after the bellringer with some time for homework questions. The diligent students know that I will be taking a problem from the assignment and making it the homework quiz. It’s the exact same questions, but not all of them. This is how I hold them accountable for homework even though it is graded for completion.
  3. Skills Check. This is a quiz, but I don’t tell them it’s a quiz and I don’t grade it. I have them write it in their notebooks and label it with “Skills Check” and the date. I do tell them explicitly it is meant to help them (and me) figure out where they are at with the current material. In this way I can quiz my students every day at the beginning of class and assess where they are at without them freaking out about daily quizzes. Last year I used the Warm Up for this purpose sometimes along with exploring problems and I didn’t like the tone it set. I like it much better now that I have two separate things. I start every class with these three activities and it gives the students a nice sense of routine and pacing to start the class.
  4. Activities: This might be notes, or some activity that I wrote, or a game, or completing a worksheet, or a quiz. If notes, I will always follow with individual practice. If an activity, I follow up with notes so that we can summarize what we did as a class. The order of these depends on the topic and whether I think the students would benefit from discovering or exploring first or if I need to set the stage before they try a new concept. The activities stage could be anywhere from 1-4 different things in a variety of formats from individual, group, or whole class and I try to keep the pace moving quickly so they don’t get off track.
  5. Closing: This is the last few minutes of class. I repeat the homework assignment and then pace the room, pointing out trash, asking them to put away markers, erasers, and calculators, and ask them to fix or straighten desks. If I don’t ask then they don’t do it and my room is left a mess.

This has been working really well for me. Sometimes some of my students still struggle with transitions or staying on task, but I keep on them.

Thanks for reading.



Second Breakfast: Day 40 Or AND/OR Boxes

After writing yesterday’s post about my difficulties communicating AND and OR to my students and considering a computer science angle, I decided to just go for it and explain AND and OR that way.

So I drew a box (I love me some box analogies) and labeled it AND. Then I drew two openings on the left and one opening on the right. I wrote T in front of both openings with arrows going into the box and then an arrow coming out of the other side and wrote a last T. Then I gave an example of some AND statement like “My name is Mr. Belcher and I teach math.”

I then repeated with all of the possibilities for True and False and then did it all over again with an OR box.

I was really proud of one student who raised her hand and said, “So, if there is at least one False, then AND will be False. And if there’s at least one True, then OR will be True.” I had not said that explicitly out loud so I was blown away when she said that. She gave that summary very quickly after I had introduced the box analogy and I heaped praise on her.

EDIT: I forgot that in second block another student said “So for the AND box it’s T-way or the highway” which was not only correct but cracked me up.

The students seemed to understand this what goes in and out of the box analogy very well and were able to complete the pattern without me giving it to them, which I was also pleased about.

And it really paid off. When we transitioned to compound inequalities, they did much better with “False AND True is False” or “True or False is True” than they did with union and intersection understandings. I will keep pushing union and intersection as well, but I am very happy about how well the box/CS function analogy went over.

I forgot to finish writing this yesterday so I am writing it this morning before work instead and this is all I have time to write.

Thanks for reading.


Second Breakfast: Day 39 Or The Monty Hall Problem

Today went well.

For Foundations, I introduced compound inequalities. I began by reminding students about the definition of a set (which they learned in the first unit) and then I introduced union and intersection. I didn’t spend as much time actually giving examples of inequality problems as trying to help them understand AND and OR. Last year this was the biggest obstacle to my students solving compound inequalities and I don’t know how much of an improvement I made this year. I ended up cutting notes short because of how long the AND and OR explanation went. Tomorrow I will follow up with more complicated examples and how to connect multi-step inequalities to compound inequalities.

I would really like to do some integrated computer science lesson to help students see how AND and OR work in a programming language, but I tried this last year and the CS got in the way. I either need a better way to introduce the concept using CS or I need to have CS integrated in the course from the beginning. (Something I am interested in for sure. I have been kicking around the idea of a curriculum that using programming to teach algebra I for a while, but I don’t yet know enough about programming to make it a reality. And even when/if I do come up with such a curriculum, it wouldn’t be a perfect fit for the current course that I am teaching. So I’ll have to table it for now.)

I am really pleased with how well my first block class is doing. Although I have a few disengaged students that I will keep trying to reach, I have won that class over. They trust me and they try the activities that I give them.

My second block is sometimes still a little wary of my activities, but they still do well. What’s frustrating is that it’s hard to tell when they are going to have a good day, but on the bright side, I have gotten better at ensuring that a good or bad day for the kids doesn’t determine whether or not learning happens. That was a big weakness of mine as a first year teacher. If the students weren’t feeling it, nothing got done. This year, it doesn’t matter if they are feeling it or not, the students who want to learn are going to be allowed to learn. I have definitely seen improvement there.

During lunch, I got our entire lunch group arguing vigorously about whether the proposed solution to the Monty Hall problem was correct and it was hilarious. (Ha, you thought I was going to write more about that but even though this really did happen today, I needed  a throw-away title because I had nothing better. YOU’VE BEEN CLICK-BAITED SUCKERS!)

My geometry class also went better today. I still feel what I wrote yesterday is true, I am afraid my class can be boring. But maybe yesterday it was extra bad because we were just reviewing for the test. They did well today and we played grudgeball. I modified my grudgeball rules to fit more closely with my colleagues version and I like his rules much better. I will write them up some other time, maybe when I have Foundations play grudgeball next week.

I have got an insane amount of grading to do and we are having people over for dinner tonight so I need to get home and make a meatloaf, which means this is all I am going to write for now.

Thanks for reading.


Second Breakfast: Day 37

Friday is the most common day for me to forget to write a post.
I reach the end of 6th bell, my last students for the day leave, and I’m just tired.

If I don’t write my blog immediately, I get distracted. And then I’m at the bar with some work colleagues, and then I’m at home eating dinner with my family, and then I’m passing out in my bed next to my wife.

And then it’s Sunday evening and I haven’t written a reflection for Friday.

I think I’m starting to hit a slump. The adrenaline of starting my second year is wearing off and I’m getting tired as we stretch into October and near the end of the 1st Quarter. I find myself thinking about what going back to graduate school or another job would be like. I’m tired.

Thanks for reading.


Second Breakfast: Day 36 Or Is Anyone Even Listening To Me?

I had my Foundations students complete a cut-and-match activity on multi-step inequalities today. In order to grade their work I had a Google Form ready that they could enter their answers in and then upload a picture of their work to submit.

Of 45 Algebra students, I received 13 submissions on the Google Form. I gave everyone else who did not submit a 0.

I’m not just frustrated that they didn’t follow directions, I’m frustrated because I watched most of them do the work I asked them to do. Of the 24 matching problems, I would estimate just from walking around and helping that almost every student completed at least 15 or so. And they didn’t turn them in. More than half turned nothing. I gave the directions at the beginning of class, during class, AND at the end of class.

My middle block was the quietest and hardest working they have ever been. And still most of them didn’t turn in their work.



So today was good and not-so-good. It seemed as though most of my students are getting the hang of solving inequalities, but it also seems as though most of them can’t follow directions or turn in the work that they did.

Teaching freshman is very discouraging sometimes.

My Geometry class went really well because they were still presenting projects to me. I gave them a packet of worksheets that was a mix of review from the previous section and work over the next two sections. I don’t think I am going to have to lecture on the final two sections of this unit much, but they are almost entirely algebra review. Most of my students finished those worksheets with “new” material today without asking me any questions at all.

While they were working on that, I had students presenting their projects. There were a lot of disappointing ones, but there were a few that were outstanding. This one in particular is my favorite and is now on top of my bookshelf in the classroom.


Not only was she the only student to choose a fold-out poster board instead of a boring powerpoint, she picked one of my favorite proofs of the Pythagorean theorem by one of my favorite Presidents. Overall I was super excited about it.

I’m going to allow my Foundations students to turn in their work tomorrow for partial credit and then have a talk with them about following directions. We’ll see how it goes.

Thanks for reading.


Second Breakfast: Day 35 Or The Peesatnimsquat

I had to proctor the PSAT 8/9 to my homeroom today.

Which was, you know, fun.

And by fun I mean very, very, verrrry boring.


Anyway. I only saw Geometry today. I gave them as in-class assignment to try while they presented their Pythagorean proofs to me. A few of them were very good, but mostly they seemed lost. I think I will probably take one or two proofs from list and use it as an activity so the project isn’t a total loss. Didn’t really do any teaching today so there’s not much to write about. All I can say is that if my job was to proctor standardized tests and nothing else, I would quit. Hoo-boy is that not fun.

Thanks for reading.