My Photo Diary: Another Great NCCAT Experience!

Please bear with me as I indulge myself in some reflection on the awesome experience I had at NCCAT (North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching) a few weeks ago. (I apologize for not publishing this blog post earlier…life happened.)

I was approached by Jonathan Wade (@NCCATWade) back in the fall of 2014 and was asked to deliver professional development (specifically, Middle Grades Math C & I) to some teachers from Caswell County, North Carolina. Without hesitating, I said “Sure!” We got the ball rolling in early December and, before I knew it, it was Super Bowl Sunday and I was on my way to the Cullowhee NCCAT campus for an amazing three days of math PD!

I spent weeks brainstorming for this 3-day workshop with Caswell County’s middle school math teachers. At first, I had no idea what I would need to bring to the table to help these teachers. I put myself into their shoes and asked myself, “What PD do I need as a middle school math teacher?” (Well, the answer to that question happens to be a long, long list.) But it wasn’t until I spoke with the lovely Elizabeth Standafer, one of Caswell County Schools directors, that I was able to put my finger on what these educators really needed:

  • Guidance in evaluating the standards (Critical Thinking)
  • The forum to communicate as grade-level teams and vertical teams
  • Uninterrupted time to create year-long pacing guides and outstanding assessments
  • A facilitator to guide teamwork and collaboration

I couldn’t believe it! The Four C’s! Once I realized that the Four C’s are just as critical to educators as they are to students, the rest of the planning was a piece of cake!

From: Conections Academy

Without further ado, here is my photo diary of my time at NCCAT with the amazing middle school math teachers of Caswell County Schools:

Woke up to a dark, cold and gloomy NC morning. (Pretty typical for a February morning.) Fortunately, we stayed warm inside NCCAT's headquarters!
Woke up to a dark, cold and gloomy NC morning. (Pretty typical for a February morning.) Fortunately, we stayed warm inside NCCAT’s headquarters!
We started off sharing our current Glows and Grows as educators.
We started off sharing our current Glows and Grows as educators.
We practiced team-building and collaboration with a Spaghetti-Marshmallow Tower Challenge!
We practiced team-building and collaboration with a Spaghetti-Marshmallow Tower Challenge!
Getting started with the tower creation...
Getting started with the tower creation…
Getting there!
Getting there!
All hands on deck!
All hands on deck!
After I spoke briefly about the Common Core, teachers got their hands dirty in evaluating ALL of the grade-level standards, and grouping them into cohesive units of study!
After I spoke briefly about the Common Core, teachers got their hands dirty in evaluating ALL of the grade-level standards, and grouping them into cohesive units of study!
After the teachers grouped their standards into  units, they began developing their year-long pacing guides.
After the teachers grouped their standards into units, they began developing their year-long pacing guides.
If you could change anything about education, what would you change?
Reflection Time: If you could change anything about education, what would you change?
More planning and assessment creation!
More planning and learning about assessment creation!
The best part about PD at NCCAT? Uninterrupted to COLLABORATE as a TEAM. This is extremely important to today's teachers!!
The best part about PD at NCCAT? Uninterrupted time to COLLABORATE as a TEAM. This is extremely important to today’s teachers!!
Teachers worked in vertical teams (Grades 6-12) to evaluate math standards beginning at the Kindergarten level! This was a special activity  for the teachers to engage themselves in.
Teachers worked in vertical teams (Grades 6-12) to evaluate math standards beginning at the Kindergarten level! This was a special activity for the teachers to participate in and discuss. 
Which standards are taught in Kindergarten? How do those standards serve as a foundation for what is taught in 1st grade and beyond?
Which standards are taught in Kindergarten? How do those standards serve as a foundation for what is taught in 1st grade and beyond?
One last opportunity to reflect and communicate: What was your BIGGEST take-away from NCCAT?
One last opportunity to reflect and communicate: What was your BIGGEST take-away from NCCAT?
BIGGEST TAKE-AWAY!
Most common take-away? The NEED for uninterrupted time to collaborate and plan!
They are fabulous...simply fabulous. Thanks for 3 great days of learning and growing as educators, Caswell County Middle School Math Teachers! You ROCK!
They are fabulous…simply fabulous. Thanks for 3 great days of learning and growing as educators, Caswell County Middle School Math Teachers! You ROCK!

Want some of the resources I shared with these teachers? CLICK HERE or go to the Math Resources tab up above.

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Thirty

In just a few weeks, I will celebrate my 30th birthday. This birthday, unlike others, has me reflecting hard on life. What has happened to me in thirty years that has created this person I am today? How many goals have I achieved and what is there left to accomplish? Am I where I thought I would be professionally? The list of reflecting points goes on. And I typically don’t have these moments of massive thoughts. But this year is different.

My thirtieth  year was rough for my family and my husband’s family. We lost my dad to a rare brain disease right after Thanksgiving, and less than six months later we lost my husband’s father to cancer. Both of us – and our families – experienced large doses of grief that we had never encountered before and it taught us a valuable lesson: life is short. We could have wallowed in our grief, yet my husband and I banded together and took another approach: seek the positive. Since our days are not infinite, it is important to share happiness and radiate love as much as we can. Even with a few occasional tears, my husband and I focus on the smiles of the past, making memories for the future, and most importantly, living in the present.

I’ll always remember “29” for those significant losses, I can’t help that. But I will also remember it as the year that I ran my first (and only) marathon at the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I had been researching marathon races for a year and finally decided on the Outer Banks Marathon in November, the Sunday before Veteran’s Day. I trained hard from June through October. My weekends were consumed by time on the treadmill. I never worked so hard in my life, physically-speaking. Completing that marathon is one of the greatest accomplishments of my life, and it always will be.  The actual run was grueling, tiring, unpleasant, difficult, and painful, and I literally couldn’t get off the couch the following day. But it was worth it, silly as that may sound.

The year before my 30th birthday was also the year that I stepped back into the classroom and began my career as a middle school teacher. I had previously taught grades at the elementary level, and took a year off to transform myself into the best middle grades math teacher possible.  That Math Lady was born and I focused all of my energy into learning middle grades math curriculum, flipped learning styles, and project-based learning strategies. Last year, I was able to exercise all that I learned in one of the most unique teaching experiences I think I will ever have: a K-8 STEAM educator. Actually, I was a middle school electives teacher who co-taught with four other teachers and continued to teach elementary at an After-School STEAM Camp. (I told you it was unique!) It was a different kind of teaching, but it allowed me to try out different PBL curriculum and teaching strategies. GREAT experience overall, but I’m looking forward to going back into my own classroom next year as a sixth grade Math and Social Studies teacher…what I originally set out to be.

And thanks to this STEAM position, I made new, everlasting friends. And started going to yoga class. Yoga has transformed me so that I will enter 30 graciously (well, as gracious as I can get!).

My thirtieth year was also marked by other professional highlights, such as being invited to an official White House Social, where I traveled to the White House and Eisenhower Executive Building to meet with U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, and Second Lady of the United States, Dr. Jill Biden. And, most recently, I was accepted into the North Carolina Governor’s Teacher Network to develop STEM curriculum for the state. Doesn’t get much better than those two things right there!

And, the cherry on top would be another year of love and baseball with my husband, Brian. We hit stadiums #23 (Yankee Stadium) and #24 (Citi Field) in April on a 24-hour whirlwind tour of NYC. We have #25 planned for the day after my 30th birthday…Safeco Field in Seattle, Washington. My husband of nearly 3 years is truly my better half and I wouldn’t be half the person I am today without him in my life.

Bottom Line: I am looking forward to 30 and all of the treasures this new year will hold!

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!

 

 

Missing the Point

Teaching decimals to young students can be tricky. Learning them can be even trickier.

I have spent years teaching this concept to upper-elementary students. At first, I would grimace at the thought of starting the decimals unit. Through trial and error, however, I found an easier path to teaching this concept to mastery. It begins with the very first day when the teacher introduces decimals…it begins with missing the “point.”

Read the following sentence aloud to yourself: “Shannon went to the bakery and bought two cakes for $13.85.” Now, read that amount again. Did you ever say the word point? Why not?

We don’t read the word point in the dollar amount; instead, we read and say the word and. Thirteen dollars and eighty-five cents. Think about it: why do we use the word and instead of point?

The same rule needs to apply to all numbers that contain decimals. IT IS TIME TO LOSE THE POINT!

When we use the word “point,” the numbers after the decimal lose their meaning. For example, 13.85 is commonly read aloud as “thirteen point eight five.” This is true (because it is historically common), but what value does the eight or the five have? More importantly, can your students explain their values?

If we take out point and substitute it with and, we get a value. Now, “thirteen point eight five” becomes “thirteen and eighty-five hundredths.” Ahhh, so thirteen is the whole number, and I now have eighty-five hundredths of another whole.

While reading decimals this way may seem like more work and challenging at first, believe me, it will make application of decimals much easier in the long-run. Consider this: what do we expect students to master when it comes to decimals? Usually our list starts off with comprehending place value significance, comparisons, adding, subtracting, etc. Later down the road, you’ll want students to know conversion of decimals to fractions. If we teach students to read decimals CORRECTLY from the get-go, they will have much simpler tasks ahead of 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.]

 

THIN MINT MATH

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

Celebrating Dr. Seuss Day with Math

When we think of celebrating the life and work of Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as “Dr. Seuss,” we envision a brightly-lit palette of rhymes and rhythms. Many of us associate this literary genius with the books that defined our childhood bedtime routines and dominated the bulletin boards throughout our elementary school. When you hear the word “Seuss,” who doesn’t immediately picture a tall, lanky cat with a red-and-white-striped top hat and an obnoxiously large red bow-tie? Because of Seuss’s ingenious creativity, we immediately wanted to befriend this Cat in the Hat as well as his many other characters from the crazy land of Whoville.

Theodore Seuss Geisel was born on March 2nd, 1904. To honor this man and legend, the National Education Association has declared this day “Read Across America Day.” I’ve heard this day be called a number of things, including Seuss Day; but despite what it is named, it will always be attributed to this wonderful children’s author.

While countless reading activities are designed to celebrate this educational holiday, math activities are somewhat overshadowed. I believe books, especially picture books, are a great tool to use to teach math. And although Dr. Seuss may not have rhymed about math specifically, many of his books can be taught in the math classroom.

I would like to share with you a bunch of Seuss-related math activities I discovered via Pinterest. Although many of these pins are geared toward lower-elementary, I think older elementary students would also appreciate some of these activities or games as they take a trip back down Childhood Lane to the wonderful world of Seuss! Just click on the pictures or the links below to take you to that Pinterest pin or board.

Oh! And don’t forget to visit www.seussville.com for more FUN Seuss-activities, lessons and games!

“Congratulations!

Today is your day.

You’re off to Great Places!

You’re off and away!”

— Dr. Seuss

 

Making Basic Multiplication Facts….Fun?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t know too many students who enjoy studying their basic multiplication facts. Nonetheless, these are facts that students NEED to know; and the only way they are going to know them is by studying them and repeatedly seeing these facts over and over.

So what are some ways that teachers can make the learning process easier and less painful? Here are a few tips, for educators and parents, to help your students master those multiplication facts:

1. Make simple review games. Kids like to be entertained, and games will usually do that. Take any game – Uno, Checkers, Go Fish – and you can incorporate multiplication drills somehow. For example, if you are playing Uno, every time two number cards are played simultaneously, require the student to name their product. While playing checkers, require each player to correctly answer 2 multiplication problems to earn their turn.

2. Spend time studying with them. One of the worst things you can do is hand a child a stack of flash cards and tell them, “Go study.” Worse yet, sitting them in front of a math website and leaving them alone to practice independently. I often advise parents to use the time spent in the car, cooking dinner, commercial breaks while watching TV, and just before bedtime as opportunities to study multiplication facts with their children.

3. Homemade (or teacher-made) puzzles. It may seem simple, but creating creative and critical thinking activities involving multiplication (like the one in the photo above) will do the trick, too. I would rather work on a puzzle than sort through a stack of flash cards any day.

4. Create real-world scenarios that involve multiplication (application). Involve your kids in the decisions you make that require you to use multiplication. “We have to stop at the gas station on our way home. If gas costs $3 per gallon and we’re going to fill 9 gallons, how much money are we going to spend?”

5. Practice orally and in written formats. Variety is the spice of life, so spice up the way your kids practice their facts!

6. There’s an App for that! Did you know that there are over 500 multiplication studying/quiz apps available? Some are FREE and many are less than $1!

7. Reward them. Of course we want our kids to be intrinsically rewarded when they do well on a math test, but extrinsic rewards may work better with some youngsters. Consider giving your child a reward for each aced timed test they take at home (or reward them for every test they take at school). Create a “Multiplication Money Jar” and reward them with $1, $2 or even $5 for every 100% they earn on a test! Don’t want to give monetary rewards? You can also give “No Chores” passes, trips to the ice cream store, time allowances on the computer or with their favorite video games!