FLAG – Fix Learning And Grow

Addressing the needs of students when they struggle haunts me.  I am not only talking about students who may be working below grade, but any student who begins to stumble on a concept.  At times even my best students have trouble on new topics.  Currently, I use a Concepts Checklist, which is an altered version of SBG (Standards Based Grading) to identify this.  However, I would ideally like to give additional support to students when they FIRST begin to have trouble, instead of trying to remediate when they are already behind or completely lost.

I read about using “red flags” in Robyn Jackson’s book “How To Support Struggling Students” while doing a book study with my amazing PLN (Professional Learning Network) of mathematics educators on Twitter.  I immediately loved the idea of the red flag, but was worried about the negative connotation of a student receiving a “red flag”.  I do not want the flag to be seen as a negative, a sign that a student is “not good” at math or “in trouble”.  To give the flag a positive connotation, I decided to come up with a positive acronym for FLAG.  Thanks to @fourkatie via Twitter, Fix Learning And Grow was born.

I do not plan to use FLAGs for purely academic reasons.  I would like to give students a FLAG in any area where they can “Fix and Grow”.  I plan on handing out flags for incomplete or missing homework, recurring misunderstandings in class, sloppy/incomplete notebooks, and excessive absences and tardies if they are having trouble making up the work.

UPDATE:  I originally included disruptive behavior, but after some insightful comments, I rethought that and will NOT be including disruptive behavior in the FLAG system.  I want to FLAG to focus on academics.

As teachers we do not have much time to implement an exhaustive new program.  It must require low maintenance from me in order for it to be long-lasting.  Thus, I am organizing the FLAG program to encourage independent learning.  When I identify a need, I will place a flag on a students paper (or notebook).  I will write the name of the FLAG on the flag.  It is then the students responsibility to address their FLAG.  The student will visit the FLAG page on our Wiki to read about their FLAG and see the steps they need to follow.  The FLAGs are only temporary, and once they have addressed their need, their FLAG can be “waived”.

I think that this will save me time because a FLAG is quick and easy to write and hand out (post-it flags).  I do not have to worry if an issue is serious enough to warrant a “talk” with a student or initiate a parent contact.  I do not have to come up with “fixes” for the problem each time I do talk to a student.  FLAG is a system that is already in place and ready to address many student needs, from the minor to the major.

I am still developing this idea and the overall FLAG system so I would LOVE any thoughts and feedback.  Read more on my FLAG page on the wiki.  Please help me make FLAGs better!

The Secret to Math Success is CREATIVITY

This week I threw Dan Meyer’s Graphing Stories opportunity at my 6th graders.  It is not for a grade, I am not giving (much) class time to work on it.  However, I have rarely seen them work so hard.  And, I have never seen students care so much about something related to math that isn’t even graded!  What’s the secret – CREATIVITY!

I showed them some of Dan’s original Graphing Story videos for illustration.  I showed them my 7th graders videos for inspiration.  And then I let them go.  They worked over the weekend, at night, and during down time at school to come up with ideas and produce their videos.  They are asking other students to be in their videos, they are helping each other film, and they are measuring heights like crazy.

They are asking me fabulous math questions:

  • “How can I get the height of myself when I am on the amphitheater stairs?”
  • “Can I use the elevation of just one foot?”
  • ” Can I slow down a part of my video to stretch it out so it will be 15 seconds but I will be moving in slow-motion?”

They are doing extra math:

  • “I am 76 inches but need to use feet.  Wait, I remember how to do that!”
  • “If each step is 14 inches high and there are 6 steps, that is 84 inches.  But, that can’t be high enough.  Oh yeah, I need to add MY height to the 84 inches.”
But mostly, they are working like crazy – and begging to do it!  That is saying a lot for 12 year olds in the last ten days of school!
Now for the hard part – I need to develop “creative math” that teaches my entire math curriculum.  After seeing them light-up and work so hard on the creative pieces I have assigned throughout the year, I am no longer happy with “regular” instruction, no matter how fun or “investigative” I have made it.  I want them to learn through creating.  I want them to have to search for answers to finish their creations.  I love to see them thinking so hard.  I love to see such active and excited learning.
If you have any great creative curriculum pieces I would love to see them.  I want more!

Math Wiki Project to Develop Interactive “Concept Help” Resources

One of my primary goals this year has been to develop easily accessible resources for students to get additional help outside of the classroom.  Students, parents, and tutors ask me for extra material for the students to work on.  Additionally, sometimes students are at home and stuck on a problem, need help with an entire concept or lesson, or miss a few days of school and need to catch up.  I wanted to be able to point students (and parents and tutors) to an interactive “re-teaching” resource that they could benefit from.  As a bonus, it would be nice if these “re-teaching” resources varied from my original instruction, were interesting, or even fun!

I started this project solo.  But, there are many, many concepts in the two classes that I teach.  Also, I did not feel that I was finding enough of a variety of resources.  So, I decided to enlist student help.

I created a project for my 7th grade pre-algebra students called “Concept Help Pages”.  I assigned each student three

concepts.  I picked the three concepts for each student from their lowest personal concept scores.  For each concept, students had to create a wiki page on our class wiki and fill it up with four different types of resources.

  • Online video explaining their concept
  • Online worked out practice problems that illustrated each step and had the answers.
  • Online “interactive” problems for students to work and get immediate feedback
  • Online game
Part of the requirements were that the videos and games had to be interesting and fun.  They needed to view the videos and play the games.  I wanted the pages to be visually appealing as well so I offered a small amount of bonus points for including a picture or illustration that directly related to their concept.  I also had the students do “Peer Reviews” of each other’s pages to check the links, play the games, and give suggestions on how to make each others pages better.
This is a work in progress.  I plan on having other classes add to the help pages in the future.  As a project for 6th grade, I am going to assign them each one of the wiki help pages for them to explore.  I will then see if they feel that they can find additional (and maybe even better) resources to include on each page.  In this way, I hope to make the pages very rich in helpful resources.
Going forward, I would like to use these pages during after school help sessions, especially when I have multiple students that need help on several different concepts.  When this happens after school I am usually scrambling to help everyone.  I make up several problems for several students and then try to work with them all individually (at the same time).  The students are rarely at the same level.  Usually, everyone ends up waiting on me while I work with one student.  If all students could pull up the online interactive problems on the concept that they need to work on, they wouldn’t have to wait for me to make up a problem for them OR check to see if their answer is correct.  I would have more time to walk them through the problems and help them when they got “stuck”.  This would enable me spend after school help time circulating between students, helping each student with exactly what they needed help on, instead of spending time making up problems and giving out answers.

Calling All Math Teachers – Help with “Math’s Greatest Hits” List

What are the 20 most important topics in each math class you teach that you would like for your students to remember for next year?

Please put your top 20 (or even top one or two) in the comments section below so we can build a working list!

Every since I read “What is the point?” in one of Elissa’s posts I cannot stop thinking about how to help our students retain the most important mathematical knowledge that we are teaching them.

As math teachers we spend hours coming up with (hopefully) fun and engaging lessons.  We want our students to discover and then understand the many math topics that we present to them.  We feel successful when our students have the “ah-ha” moments in class and when we can tell that they really understand the concepts.  High scores on end of unit assessments lull us into security that our students have really learned the material.  Fast forward two months (or even two weeks in some cases), bring up the topic again, and your students have no idea what you are talking about.  As seasoned math teachers, we know this will happen.  It is why we “review” topics constantly.  It is why we often do an official review of past material before teaching a new unit that is dependent on past knowledge.  But it is still so frustrating!   It is when we feel the least successful as math teachers.  It is when we have the “What is the point?” moments that Elissa described.  How could they have learned this material so well, and then forgotten it so completely?  What happened?

First of all, you cannot blame the students.  They are working hard and they do learn the information. However, think of how much they are learning each and everyday.  Also, remember back to your school days and recall the learn and dump method, where you would cram all of the information that you could into your head and then purge your memory right after the test to start preparing for the next test in yet another subject.  Honestly, think of all of the stuff that you have forgotten – even in your own subject area.

It is not the teacher’s fault either.  We work hard so that our students will learn the material.  We make up engaging activities and discovery lessons so they will actually understand what they are doing.  And, we make up mnemonics and even songs to help them retain this knowledge past the test day.  They are learning.  However, we have to realize that they will not remember everything that we teach.

I want to improve this.   Since I know that it is difficult for students to remember everything, I want for them to come away from my class understanding and actually remembering the most basic and important facts from my math class to carry with them to the next year.  These are the facts that are crucial to remember for the next mathematics level.  These are facts that are the most important to remember.   And, even if they can’t remember all of these facts, I would love to give them a tool to help them remember these facts.  I also want them to have easy access to this information so they can go, “Oh yeah, I remember that!” before the next teacher has to teach it – again.

The tool that I would like to design could be a  “Math’s Greatest Hits” list for the year.  I would like to compile the “Math’s Greatest Hits” list slowly over the year, adding to the list each time we come to a crucial concept.  Ideally, I would like to keep this under 20 “math facts” so the students can keep it all on one page.  I want the students to realize the importance of this list of facts and to have easy and constant access to this list all year long.  Ideally, I would like for the students to even carry their list with them to their next math class.

My first thought was to expand upon the index card flip charts that we currently make, but add a twist. For instance, we could use colored index cards instead of white cards just for the “Maths Greatest Hits”.  However, some of their earlier flip charts are already lookin pretty ratty.  The list needs to be in a page protector to keep it durable and to make it seem more “important”.  But then students would have to take the list out of the page protector to flip the index cards.  I am afraid that to many students this will not qualify as “easy access”, but will fall in the “too much trouble” category and thus will not be used.  So sadly I have realized that the index card method probably isn’t the most effective.

What may be best is one sheet of colored card stock for each student.  I can print lines on the paper to divide each side into 8 or 10 sections.  This will create room for 18 – 20 “Math Facts”.  It would be in a page protector and students could pull it out to add to it, and have it handy for math lessons and homework.

I am not married to this idea, it is just the best one that I could come up with!  I would love any and all suggestions.  I want to create this list in the next couple of weeks.

Please comment to

  1. Give ideas on how you would design the “Math’s Greatest Hits” list
  2. Give the top “Math Facts” for your subject.

When I have time (hopefully before summer), I will compile all of these facts by subject and re-post.

Walking the Walk: Teaching Math Vocabulary

I speak math is my blog title.  I feel I am a translator of math into english.  However, what I would really love is for my students to speak math as well.  When I started this summer, all I has was, “One vocab page for each chapter”.  However, thanks to Twitter and the wonderful world of the internet, I have come up with a few more strategies.  I have dismissed the “one vocab page for each chapter” for now because of the Index Card Flip Chart that we are making in class.  What I am currently doing is called, “Vocabulary Illustration”.  I did not come up with this fabulous idea, I got it from Bill’s blog here and then tweaked it a bit.  I assigned the project to my 7th grade class and got some really neat illustrations!  However, they weren’t as “fine tuned” as I would have liked so I created a rubric to guide them on their illustrations.  Vocabulary Illustration Rubric.

Now, I randomly assigned each student a word from each chapter before we start that chapter and hand out the rubric.  On the day they are due, each person presents their illustration to the class.  I grade their illustration while they are presenting so they get immediate feedback.

After they turn them in, I have the other classes vote on them (names omitted).  The next day, I award the winning illustrations with a prize from the prize pail.  I also hang up all of their illustrations in the room.

I believe that I may go one more step this chapter.  After hanging the illustrations up, I am going to give each student a blank sheet of white copy paper and have them copy their favorite illustration for each vocabulary word to keep in their folder.  I am hoping that the visual vocabulary will reinforce their understanding (and recall) of the words.  When they are studying for the test, they can study their index cards and their vocabulary sheets.  I will post a picture of one after we make the sheet.

The Math Wiki is full of more vocabulary ideas that I have yet to try!  And I am always looking for great ideas to help students attain a working math vocabulary!  So, if you have them, please let me know.  : )

Change Someone’s Math…Care

Please don’t give up on the student that is “too far behind”, even if they are a senior in high school.  You may not even know it, and the student definitely won’t know it, but it is possible to change their life.

I grew up in a small town with very average schools.  Few graduates went on to 4-year colleges, far fewer graduated.  I was an advanced student and in the “honors track”, however, I had miserable middle school math experiences.  I had terrible teachers, I sat in the back, I tuned out.  They let me.  I scraped by.  I was quiet, so they were happy.  They didn’t care.

In high school I switched from regular Alg II to Honors Alg II because the honors teacher didn’t check homework, ever.  This teacher also taught my older brother, whom she loved.  I got to run all of the class errands.  On test days, she would walk over to my desk and point out the answers of the multiple choice tests.  She didn’t care.

I landed in Pre-Calculus junior year.  I was beyond lost.  I wanted to drop.  My teacher wouldn’t let me.  For the first time, my math teacher cared.   In this school system, many of her students had been through all of these average math teachers.  Enter mathematics basic boot camp.  She started us out with algebra.  She then moved us through geometry.  By Christmas we had finally made it t0 pre-calculus.  We worked hard.  I now know that she worked harder than any of us.

My senior year she taught calculus, so I took it.  It was the only class I had to work at that year.  At the end of the year, I made an A on the University of Kentucky’s calculus final exam.

She didn’t give up on me because I was “too far behind” or because “it was too late”.  She changed the course of my life.  I graduated college summa cum laude with a bachelor of science degree in mathematics.  I received a full graduate fellowship to Wake Forest University in mathematics.  I was able to choose the mathematics path because ONE teacher cared.

She is why I became a teacher.  She will forever be my inspiration.  I may not ever be as gifted of a teacher as she is.  However, I can care as much for my students as she cared for me.  Hopefully, I can improve someone’s life as she improved mine.

Thank you Mrs. Miracle, for being a perfect model of how to care, and for changing my life because of it.

Thanks to all of the teachers out there that work with students that everyone else has given up on because they are “too far behind” or because it is “too late”.   It’s not always fun, and it is never easy, but it is always worth it.

Intrigued – Concept Based Assessment

Alright already – I am intrigued if not yet convinced I can do it.  You math bloggers out there are really getting to me.  I know this – I hate the current method of grading.  I am forever tweaking at the end to give each child the grade that I believe matches their understanding.  Kids in the middle I can’t help – but kids on the edge are why I am up until 2am working on grades at report card time.

Can I do it?  I don’t know!  With all new subjects (and grade levels) it will be like I am going to be a first year teacher again in the fall.  But this time I have three kids who are heavily involved in sports and an equally busy husband.

The Good – I am in a private school so we do not have “standards” like the public school.  So, I will refer to it as “Concept-Based Assessment”.  I love the idea of the concept based assessment.  I love the idea that my students and I will know what concept each of them need work on.  I already made my list of concepts I would like to cover for 7th grade.

The Bad – I already made my list of concepts I would like to cover for 7th grade and I have almost 50!!  I loved doing this however bc it really laid the year out before my eyes and made me determine what was the most crucial to cover and what was not as important.

The Ugly – I don’t know how this will fly with my school or students.  I don’t know if I can keep up with the constant retesting that this seems to require while planning two new classes.  I may even do this in tandem for a while to see how it is working before jumping off of the cliff.

I made my first concept based assessment today.  It really felt TOO short.  I am a bit torn.  My ratio change has to be priority number one this year.  But I would really like to give this a stab as well.

Yes, as usual I am spiraling towards the “biting off more that I can chew” year.  Business as usual for me!  🙂

Changing My Ratio

After reading many books and blogs on the subject I have decided that this year I WILL change my ratio.  (Is this Lemov language)?

I will not stand in front of the classroom the whole period.  I will not walk around just talking.  I will talk less.  I will walk more.

My students will take fewer notes.  They will do more problems.  They will work harder.  They will learn by DOING.

“I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand.”