Why I Haven’t Been Blogging

I made some professional goals this summer, a few weeks before my year-round school year began. One of the goals was to continue blogging and reflecting on my practice. I admit that if I was being graded on my blogging, I would earn a big, fat “F”. Wow, this goal is going to be much harder to achieve than I had originally believed.

Teaching is a time-consuming profession. This is not news to any teacher out there. We spend most of our awake hours lesson planning, grading assignments, meetings, creating assessments, analyzing assessments, and, oh yeah, teaching. There are not enough hours in the day to get it all done! Yet, I made it a goal to stay in touch with the blogging world, so I am going to take advantage of this “extra” day off to blog about it. “It” being the many reasons I haven’t blogged.

Blogging requires topics to think about and then talk about. While I’ve come across many blog-worthy topics (i.e., technology in classrooms, teaching PBLs, running an after-school camp, and working in a high-poverty school) I haven’t had time to sit down and really delve into any of them on a blogging level. Until now. I would like to take this extra day, Labor Day, to blog about some new elements of my daily teaching life that have made teaching easier for me. Hopefully they will help you, too.

Prezis: Prezis are not new, but they were new to me about one month ago. I made my first Prezi (http://prezi.com/ylypmiedscwr/?utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=copy) to introduce the brand new STEAM class to our middle school students. It is much more eye-appealing than MS’s PowerPoint, and the templates are so user-friendly. www.prezi.com

Student Feedback Surveys: One best practice that I was determined to implement into my classroom this year was student feedback surveys. We already conducted one survey after our initial PBL lesson and it really helped. What I learned, though, was that students need experience in taking these surveys, and I could tell that this was the first one they had ever taken for a teacher before. Although I didn’t get the meaty responses I was looking for, I was able to get the overall big picture of my students’ likes and dislikes and some insight into the changes they would make if we were to teach this lesson again. While there are various platforms to conduct surveys, we used the free survey service provided by www.surveymonkey.com.

STEAM Education: STEAM education is a unique and powerful curricular tool to teach the sciences and arts in a project-based way. The STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) fields of professionalism and college degrees are sky-rocketing, and we need to prepare our kids for a STEAM world. U.S. State Representative Suzanne Bonamici (D-Oregon) made her voice heard earlier in 2013 with her position on STEAM: “STEAM education will foster creativity, innovation, and thinking outside the box – all of which will help our students on the path to global competitiveness.” Our world is only going to get more advanced in these areas, and students who are not exposed to sci-tech, engineering, math and design are going to fall behind. I wish all schools had a STEAM program, and it is my goal personal mission to make this brand new program a success for my school.

DonorsChoose.Org I am so thankful for this online donation organization. My principal told me about Donors Choose two months ago and I quickly signed up two projects. They were fully funded within 2 weeks. I was blessed with some donations from friends and family. But the best part were the donations made by perfect strangers who donated to my project out of the kindness of their heart. Wow! My students and I are so thankful for these donations….what an amazing organization! www.donorschoose.org

And while my blogging presence and Twitter (@thatmathlady) presence may be lacking lately, don’t think I’m not following you all and reading your blogs and Tweets! I follow my Twitter PLN every spare moment I get and try to read up on all the blogs each morning. Thank you for continuing to share with me your magic in the classroom…I hope to be able to return the favor intermittently throughout the school year! 🙂


The Magic of Project-Based Learning

I have solved the mystery. I have cracked the code. Eurkea! I have figured it out: I have finally witnessed the phenomenon of students getting excited about learning!

What is the secret, you ask? Well, I must say, it is so simple. So simple, in fact, I can sum it up in various 3-word explanations:

Hands-on experiments.

Giving students options.

Project-based learning.

During the past 3 weeks, I have been teaching a STEAM curriculum that is solely taught using Project-Based Learning (PBL). We’ve only taught one unit so far, but I can already tell that the PBL-style learning is going to have a huge impact on these students.

Learning is an active process. Students must be engaged during their time in class and the best way to ensure they’re actively learning is by giving them opportunities to problem solve, collaborate with their peers, experiment, and reflect. In the past 3 weeks, our students have spent approximately 75% of their time collaborating with their peers, as well as working on hands-on activities. The remainder of that time has been spent utilizing technology and reflecting on what they have learned (writing an online blog).

Students reflect on their experiments in an online blog format. Teachers can read blogs to ensure student learning took place and observe students’ insights.

Students want to learn while having the opportunity to be creative. This was very evident in our first PBL unit: The Egg Drop. We gave our students the opportunity design any unique device imaginable (from a variety of available materials), and then build it. Students were pretty excited to be given the freedom of choices and the ability to design their own devices using only their imagination. Then, they dropped their first egg in our school’s 2-story stairwell. That was fun. But they became even more excited when they found out the next step was to improve their egg-drop device and drop it out of a two-story window! Now, with some experience under their belt, they realized they could truly soar. And they did.

What was the percentage of students who failed this unit? 0% across the board. What was the percentage of total time spent off task? Less than 5% across the board. What was the percentage increase of student motivation to learn, improve, and reflect on this project? 100% in every class, every day.

I can’t believe it has taken me over 5 years to figure out this secret, but I’m happy I finally discovered it, and I can share it with my peers. Hopefully you can teach your students using PBL units this year. Please let me know what you think!

Creating Project-Based Learning Units

I have spent the past year daydreaming about engaging, fun math projects. A few short weeks ago, I accepted a STEM math teaching position and I feel like I can finally start living my dream! Here is an example of a math project I made for 7th grade. It is called A Dream Day at Carowinds (the local amusement park here in Charlotte, N.C.). If you like it, please feel free to download/use it and tweak it to meet your students’ needs, and make it FUN and ENGAGING for them!



Thin Mint Math

OK, so I have a looong back story to the reason behind this blog. If you came here just because you saw the words “thin mint” or “math” and want to get to the nitty-gritty of it all, scroll down…and then keep going…keep going… and stop when you see THIN MINT MATH.

It all started one afternoon, not long ago, when my husband and I were out shopping. We saw the local Girl Scout troop was selling their famous cookies, so we stopped to buy our annual allotment of minty chocolaty goodness. I know it sounds glutenous, but I told my husband he should buy 3 boxes for the two of us (you can always throw them in the freezer, I reasoned). He bought five.

We raced home with our cookies and quickly dug into the first box. Before we knew it, two boxes were demolished! I’m convinced he was sneaking a few after I had gone to bed, and I’m sure he suspected I was eating more than I claimed. Maybe our cat, Phoebe, is to blame. Anyways…bottom line…the cookies disappeared and we were down to almost half our stash.

I panicked. Shortly after our realization that Thin Mint Season (a.k.a. end of February – beginning of March) was rapidly drawing to a close, I began my search for a quality substitute for our favorite cookies. Where does one go to find creative solutions to cookie-related desperation?

That’s right. Pinterest. Search: “thin mint cookies.”

I found a lot of awesome homemade versions that claim to be just like the real deal. I couldn’t believe it. I clicked on a dozen pins that lead to Mommy Blogs, Bakery Blogs, Chef-Wannabe Blogs, and Food Indulgence Blogs. It looks like people have been trying to decode this secret recipe for years and, fortunately for us, they have shared these recipes online so everyone may benefit! Yay! I was so excited and couldn’t wait to try one (or all) of these recipes!

But, wait. Not so fast. Just as I was about to close up shop, I discovered a pin for “Thin Mint Puppy Chow.” Now, that may seem gross at first, until you realize what “Puppy Chow” is.

Puppy Chow is a cute nickname given to a Chex-mix recipe originally called Muddy Buddies®. Yes, it is so popular that it is a registered-trademark of Chex®. The original recipe basically calls for a melted chocolate/peanut butter mixture to be poured over a bowl full of Chex® , mixed up, and then covered with powdered sugar. (Want the recipe? Click HERE.)

Thin Mint Puppy Chow is a slightly different variation. Basically, remove peanut butter and add peppermint. End result? You got it: Thin Mint Cookies (or a heavenly flavor that closely mocks the Girl Scout treat).

Here is the Pinterest Thin Mint Puppy Chow pin that I clicked on. [Note: I slightly changed up the recipe, because as you’ll notice, the chocolate on the mix wasn’t mint chocolate. I wanted the Chex-mix to taste like Thin Mints without having to sacrifice any more of my GS stash.]



So, what does this have to do with math? Well, I believe that any type of cooking in the kitchen involves math, and this mini project-based lesson is no exception. If you have kiddos around who (A) enjoy cooking, (B) like to get a little messy, and (C) love Thin Mints, then this cooking/math activity is for them!

Let’s start off with measurement. I made a sample batch for this recipe and used the following:

1 Cup Rice Chex

1/2 Cup Baker’s Chocolate (melted according to box directions)*

2 Tbsp Confectioner’s Sugar (Powdered Sugar)

1/4 Tsp Peppermint Extract

(* Use white chocolate with green food coloring if you want to add some color to your mix, like in the picture up above. Or, you can use semi-sweet chocolate sans food coloring. Or both!)

Math supplies!

This recipe yields 1 cup of mix (like I said, just a sampling size). That was enough for my husband and I to split for dessert, but as you’ll notice in the original Muddy Buddies® recipe, it calls for 9 cups of Chex®. So, let’s move on to ratios and proportions. To convert my small batch size to a proportional, larger recipe, students will need to find proportional values of each ingredient. I suggest you start off by encouraging them to double all of the ingredients, or tripling them. Then start asking more complex questions: But what if I want to make a full, 9-cup batch? If each person eats 1/2 cup, and we have 20 guests, how much should I make? How much of each ingredient will I need?

After your young chefs decide on how much of each ingredient is needed, then you can begin baking! Following a recipe in steps is another lesson you can teach:

Step 1: Measure cereal into a large bowl and set aside.

Step 2: In a medium-size bowl, melt the chocolate (based on the directions on the box, approximately 1 minute) until smooth. Then, stir in peppermint extract and food coloring.

Step 3: Pour chocolate mixture over the cereal and gently stir, coating as much cereal as possible.

Step 4: Pour chocolate-covered cereal into a large zip-lock bag.

Step 5: Pour in powdered sugar. Close bag (tight!) and shake! (This is the fun part!) Shake until the powdered sugar has evenly covered the cereal. Pour mixture back into a bowl and Voila! Thin Mint Puppy Chow!

If you have some spare Thin Mints laying around and you want to chop them up and throw them in for good measure, I highly recommend it as it will only increase the deliciousness of this treat!

Other math lessons you can incorporate into Thin Mint Math:

Estimating costs: Go to the store and purchase the ingredients needed to make the dessert. Guess how much it will cost before you start shopping, and readjust your estimate as you wander the aisles picking up each ingredient. This is a great lesson in money, estimation, and economics!

Elapsed Time: Have a party starting soon? How much time will be needed to make the recipe before the guests arrive? (You can show them that the suggested time is 15 minutes. Since this is our first time making this recipe, should we allow for extra time? How long will it take us to clean up?)

Not to mention (but I will, anyway), this yummy lesson teaches math concepts like fractions, addition and multiplication.

Happy Mathing!

Oh, and by the way, you can follow me on Pinterest and find more math fun at www.pinterest.com/thatmathlady

NBA Dream Team Math Activity

With all of the hoop-lah (no pun intended) surrounding the NBA these days, I thought I would create an NBA activity for students who are motivated by the mere mention of the word ‘sports,’ and who are possibly considering joining the realm of professional sports after they graduate. This project-based, math-inquiry activity is designed for students to research and compare simple statistics.

At the end of the day, who has what it takes to make a team with the best basketball players out there? Let’s find out in the Fantasy NBA Dream Team Challenge!

Slideshare.net has the pdf file of this activity which can be saved or emailed directly to you!

Thanksgiving-Themed WebQuest

Happy November, everyone! Yes, it’s another student inquiry project/webQuest. This one is for middle school math (CCSS grades 5-7), but you could use it for younger advanced learners, or older learners who need some review.

I have come to the realization that we need more real-world learning in the classroom. Why?

1. It makes learning math content more relevant.

2. It makes math more interesting.

3. It requires higher-order thinking and, most times, student collaboration.

Math teachers (especially middle school teachers!) – please take a look at this and take a moment to let me know your thoughts. Is this something you’ll use in your classroom? Why or why not?
Oh, and by the way, I think the SlideShare makes the text look skewed…it doesn’t appear that way in pdf.