Second Breakfast: Day 64 Or How Many Holes Does A Straw Have?

Inspired by a wonderful discussion among #mtbos members on Twitter on how many holes a straw has, I made the following question the warm up today:

Does a straw have 1 or 2 holes?

Before first block started, I had the following conversation with a student:

Student: Mr. Belcher please change the warm up?

Me: Why?

S: Because it’s gonna be a big fight! *mocking voice* NAH MAN IT HAS ONE HOLE BECAUSE-SHUT UP SHUT UP-LISTEN-IT HAS ONE HOLE

Me: But that’s what I want! *smiles*

S: *exasperated look*

The student was correct. Her class gets very lively when I give debates like this. Almost too lively and sometimes I have to referee so everyone can be heard, but I far prefer the intensity of first block to the apathy of a later block.

And I got some really excellent arguments out of first block. In fact, one student, with zero prompting from me, made an argument based on a hole in one sheet of paper, then a hole in two sheets of paper. He needed a little help to verbalize the jump from two sheets of paper to the whole straw, but I was really impressed what was essentially some calculus-like understanding from an algebra student.

My geometry block was mostly indifferent to the warm up but I pushed a couple of my very bright students really hard to explain different scenarios with straws and potatoes and spheres. It was fun.

The warm up was the bright spot all day. My entire family unfortunately got sick over break, so I have felt like garbage since Thursday and I really didn’t feel any better this morning. But I had just taken two personal days at the beginning of last week and we just had a whole week off so I couldn’t justify taking a sick day to myself. I went to work

It was rough. I didn’t do a whole lot of teaching. I gave all of my classes computer and bookwork and generally didn’t spend too much time trying to make them focus. I just wasn’t up to the task.

I am really hoping I feel better tomorrow because I can’t push off learning new material in any of my classes, but if I feel like I do now tomorrow it is going to be rough. I definitely did not have the energy or the presence of mind to do any real teaching today.

So lots of liquid and bed rest for me tonight.

Thanks for reading.


Second Breakfast: Days 61 – 63

I am leaving for Ohio tomorrow. I have all of next week off because I took two personal days to get enough travel time for Thanksgiving to see family. (We will will be driving.)

So this post covers today, Monday, and Tuesday since I will have a sub for two days next week.

My strategy for the sub is to leave more practice problems for the students than they can handle. I’m not normally a “give them a big ole’ packet of problems” kind of teacher, but I have no idea what my sub will be able to do, so the best I can do is leave problems that the students should already know how to solve but need to practice and admonish them to be on good behavior.

My poor geometry students have to take a test without me because the department wants all of us to wrap up the current unit before Thanksgiving break.

I’m going to keep this post short because I am still trying to get everything together and ready for the sub before I head out to enjoy my much needed vacation.

Thanks for reading.


Second Breakfast: Day 60

Geometry has been improving. This week have done several different activities that don’t involve me just giving notes or going through problems with the whole class. I was doing that before this week, but I have increased the amount and it seems to be helping. I still have kids off-task, but overall it seems to be going better. And when I call them to attention to talk about something they have been more responsive.

However I did make a mistake today. I took a problem from our textbook and fleshed it out a little into a task.


…and then I essentially walked them through it.


I have no idea why I did that. My plan was for them to struggle through it. Why did I practically give away the answer?

Sometimes I shoot myself in the foot in my excitement for math / eagerness to help.

Ah well. The individual work that came after the activity seemed to go well.


My freshman have lost some of their discipline, but I was able to wrangle them back pretty well today. I think I finally got that second wind to help me finish out this week and make it to Thanksgiving Break. I am really hoping this upcoming week off will be enough to refresh me and carry me to Christmas and the end of the semester. (I have all block classes so I will get entirely new set of students at the end of January after exams. I wish we finished exams before Christmas and had a fresh start after the New Year, but the current academic schedule doesn’t allow for it.)

Quizzes tomorrow. It’s been too long since I gave any of my classes a quiz.

Thanks for reading.


Second Breakfast: Day 59

Today went well and I felt better!

For Foundations of Algebra, I started with a follow-up Desmos activity (the second polygraph from the linear bundle on Desmos). Some students grumbled but most of the completed it and I got some good conversations out of them (both them talking together and as a whole class).

Then I followed up with some direct instruction and notes on x- and y-intercepts. They responded well and seemed to get it. I am going to follow up tomorrow with some practice problems.

Geometry also went well. I shared the pictures from yesterday’s centroid activity. The kids protested that they didn’t want to be embarrassed, but it wasn’t real protesting. We all laughed at the pictures together (some of them were pretty funny).

We completed notes on special segments and points of concurrency and then practice, followed by some very short notes on midsegments.

During planning I went to go observe an Honors Physics class at the urging of a colleague because I have feeling down. He was trying to get me to see that I am not doing so badly and that I have challenging classes.

He was right on both counts. It did help to go observe another class and see how students in an Honors course behaved versus how my students behaved.

I am struggling to tie this all together well, but oh well.

Thanks for reading.


Second Breakfast: Day 58

I really don’t want this blog to continue to be a place where I just vent about how frustrated I am. Today was frustrating but I am going to choose not to write about that.

In the first half of Foundations we spent some time doing test corrections. I had some students who were really resistant to figuring out how to do the problems. They just wanted me to give them the answer and they were grumpy when I would tell them to try a problem again. But most of them did well and comparing this year to last year I am pleased with the improvements I am seeing in how well students do on test (which I am using a proxy for how well I am doing.) I do think that I am still not doing enough word problems with my students.

Students don’t like doing word problems and I don’t particularly enjoy teaching them. I have to work on that.

I had some students complain about Desmos and I, as they would say, lectured them about how how great Desmos is compared to what I got in algebra. (With apologies and respect to my own Algebra teacher, who was a wonderful woman and taught me well, but she just taught from one big long roll of a transparency on an overhead and then used every “math-puzzle-joke” worksheet known to teacherdom. (I really did like her, I promise.))

I found the complaining confusing. The best I can guess is that the students don’t hate Desmos as much as they hate being forced to think about problems that don’t have an obvious answer. It flabbergasts me every time they say they hate Desmos. I don’t know. It’s very discouraging to here.

I want to say it’s weird when the students tell me they just want worksheets but actually I don’t think it’s all that weird. They are used to worksheets and they are used to not being asked to think instead of regurgitate so I am asking them to work harder. Or, at least, I hope that is what is going on. That’s the view that makes me look good, haha.

In truth I am not sure, I can only guess.

In geometry I used Becca Phillip’s triangle selfie activity, which was fun and I got some really funny selfies from the kids, even though I had some cheaters punch little holes in their triangles. This turned out well, but I should have budgeted more time. I haven’t been able to get through as much as I would like yesterday or today. Some of that may be the difficulties I am having with geometry, but it might also be how much we have to do and just plain old how long it takes to do it.

I finally kicked a few students out of geometry, but I waited too long. It was near the end of the class and they kept talking underneath me. I tried to go talk to the students I kicked out (because they have been long time problems) but they shut down.

Thanks for reading.




Second Breakfast: Day 56 Or Talking Too Much

I am convinced I am still teaching Geometry wrong. I just finished teaching the block and my throat is dry and sore. Clearly I was talking and explaining too much AND I was having to speak loudly so to make sure the whole class heard me. I’m getting frustrated with myself because I don’t understand why I don’t just ask the unruly students to leave. I don’t know if it’s because it’s lot of little soft whispering by a few students so I don’t feel any particular offense is egregious, but it wears me down.

If I look on the bright side at least 9 times out of 10 they are making an effort to be discrete about their comments or conversations rather than just yelling out in the middle of class while I am helping the class work a problem. I tried to vary the activities, open with warm up done individually, then move to whole class review of problems, then group work on some harder review problems, then complete the harder review problems as a class, and then finally guided notes. We were changing what we were going every 20-25 minutes and I tried to alternate because individual, group, and whole class. But it just doesn’t seem to be working all that well. I get about active responses from 5-6, silent listening from another 10-15, silent non-listening from another handful, and then distracted off-task whispering from the rest.

I just cannot get this class locked down and I’m really frustrated with it. And I know it’s not just my classroom management. I still haven’t figured out a way to help them do geometry problems. If I do whole class, I get what I just described above. If I do group work on problems (even problems they should already know how to do from a previous unit) then I get lots of off-task behavior. They are driving me crazy. My freshman algebra classes are doing better than my sophomore and up geometry. And as I have mentioned many times before, the class is just so big.

30 students is. killing. me.


On the bright side, there are some really good students in that class and when I am not wrangling the whole class we do get some interesting and fun math done together. And my freshman foundations are doing much better this year than last year.

I am very ready for Thanksgiving break.

Thanks for reading.