This week in math class was a like riding a roller coaster, while I had some good times I am not sure I want to ride it again.  I teach 2 sections, an advanced math class for 7th graders – we learn the 7th grade & many 8th grade standards during one year.  The other 3 classes are regular 7th grade math. Both classes were working on a performance task from smarter balanced to start the week.  You can read the entire problem here

The middle school I teach at has four 6th grade, two 7th grade, and two 8th grade math teachers.  We work well together and decided this last summer to all complete the same smarter balanced performance task each quarter.  We would then use our professional development time to talk about trends, problems and how we would score them.  The first one we did was a 6th grade task, we also decided no calculators and students could work in groups.  Other than that teachers were free to choose how to set up the lesson and how kids completed the task.

I started mine later than I wanted to, because students were finishing their chapter 1 test.  So instead of 3 days to complete this task, I had 2 class days – both of which were shortened periods.  I started it with the advanced kids first.  The task has an intro piece that teachers are supposed to do about field trips to help guide the kids in thinking about all the things that teachers think about when planning a trip – cost, distance from school, etc.  However, all it did for my adv. kids was get them jacked up about the possibility to go on a field trip. Then I had to spend a ton of time calming them back down and refocusing on the task at hand.  I explained to the students they were to do tasks 1 and 2 today.  I knew they would not finish 2, but figured they could get a good start.  I let them work in groups of 2 or 3 and they could chose their partner(s).  There were a few questions about the first problem, but most groups did good with it.  The 2nd question however was more challenging .  While most of the advanced students understood the math they needed to do, very few remembered to change the miles to round trip and their organization skills were a disaster.  There were random calculations all over their papers.  They did not label any of the calculations and just did them willy-nilly on their paper. So I stopped class and reminded the groups that the bus also needed to come back and demonstrated how to label their work.  I would love to say that my suggestions were immediately taken into consideration and the students all started over creating beautiful tables, charts and labels; Let’s be real, these are middle school kids, who think mathematically and assume that everyone thinks like them, so they don’t need no stinkin’ labels.  The period ended, I collected their work and began to reflect on what I would do differently with the “regular” kids.

I skipped the entire teacher set up with the regular classes.  I showed them the table of student votes and then gave them a sentence frame to help them answer the question.   Next we went over the information for task 2.  We discussed the need for the trip to be a round trip rather than one way and how we would calculate the miles for round trip.  We looked at how many students were going and the entrance fees.  We starred the fact that the school was giving us $200 and discussed that we would need to subtract that from our total.  Finally, we noticed it wanted the cost per student.  Someone said we would need to divide.  YEAH!!  So we put a division symbol next to that part of the problem.  I was feeling great and turned them loose to work in their self selected groups of two or three.  As I walked around I reminded the students to organize their thinking.  I even went so far as to demonstrate with one or two groups that were really struggling.   This lead to a couple of really well done student papers that I used as examples for the other classes.  I even showed them to the advanced students the next day, so they would see what I was expecting.

I had already used up my two class days for this task, so I took my half finished projects to the group and we shared.  We all ran into the same issue of organizing, but different teachers handled it differently.  Some scaffold even more than I did, while others provided no scaffolding at all – here’s the work kids go for it.  Because this is something new and we want kids to be successful with it I think we need to model it and scaffold it so we can get them to be able to do it independently in a year and half on the smarter balanced test.  I also found it interesting the amount of writing teachers were having their students do.  Here are a couple of student papers.  What are your thoughts?

So after a long weekend I returned to my room and told the kids today was it.  We were going to finish task 2 and I wanted them to complete task 4 also.  We were skipping task 3 in the interest of time, but if they finished 2 & 4 they took do 3.  Day 3 did not go as I planned, kids who were totally into the problem on Thursday were off task and chatty on Monday.  I am not sure what the problem was, but only a few groups finished task 4.  It was very frustrating.  Since I did not want to spend another day on it, I collected them and we moved on.  Is that wrong?  Should I have given them another day to finish?  It is a great problem and the math is at a level that was accessible to my 7th graders, but the time it took seemed excessive.  What are your thoughts?


Songs in Math Class

I love music, and I can often recall lyrics to songs that I haven’t heard in years.  So I often play math songs for my students, some of my favorites are by Al G. Bra and can be found here.  I also like the song y=mx + b.

This year I decided to push myself and create a song myself.  No I have not made a video because even my kids don’t like to hear me sing.  (There was a reason I was in band for 7 years).  However, many of students know understand the process for multiplying mixed numbers because of my little song.

I was able to write the song in about 10 – 15 minutes. I thought about the process of multiplying mixed numbers and brainstormed the words I would need to use.  Next, I chose the tune “Are you Sleeping” or “Frere Jacques.”  I liked this tune because it repeats it self so I didn’t have to come up with as many lyrics.  Other good tunes include: Happy Birthday, Twinkle Twinkle or Jingle Bells.  You want to use something familiar that students have probably heard before.    My first version went like this:

“Change to improper, Change to improper; Cross cancel next, cross cancel next;  Multiply the numerators, Multiply the denominators;  Simplify your answer.”

I wouldn’t go so far as to say kids love it, but all I have to do is start singing the first line and they remember what to do.  Earlier tonight as I was correcting their tests I was pleased to see that very few students got the multiplying mixed number questions wrong.  Most were also able to explain, using complete sentences and transition words, the process for multiplying mixed numbers.

What is your favorite math song?  If you have a video send me the link, I would love to show it in class.

My Favorite No adapted

The other day I had students complete an exit ticket before they left class.  I give each student a post-it note and then display a problem or two on the screen for them to do before they leave.  I will also do this as an entrance ticket.   This day there were two problems

exit ticket

Once students leave the room I pull the post-its and check for accuracy.  I had several students that were still making errors, such as not finding common denominators.  So I knew that we needed more time with this concept, but I dreaded another boring worksheet where the kids who know it already know it and those that don’t continue to make the same errors.  Then I remembered two things I learned this summer: One was from a video I saw this summer about using kids work to help break down misconceptions also titled My Favorite No and the second was a smarter balanced question about explaining the error and My Favorite No was born.

I took the incorrect post it notes and wrote the problems and the student work onto a clean sheet of paper, this was to prevent identifying the student who did it wrong and so it was readable for all kids.  The next day in class I asked my students to help me be a math detective.  I told them that the sheet contained problems that students did wrong from yesterday, but I needed their help in figuring out what the student had done wrong so I could help them to fix it.  I allowed them to discuss their ideas with the people at their table and they could even “steal” an idea from a friend if it made sense to them and it worked.  Students had to both solve the problem correctly and write an explanation of what the original student did wrong.

This activity was great in helping the students deepen their understanding of adding & subtracting fractions without a boring ol’ worksheet.


  • HELLO MathTwitterBlogosphere! I am Jennifer and I have been teaching for 15 years.  4 years at 4th grade, 6 years at 6th grade and the last 5 I have been teaching 7th & 8th grade math!  I love it!  I teach in Hermiston, Oregon and have spent my entire career in Oregon although I grew up in Wenatchee Washington.   I have always wanted to be a teacher, I have 6 younger brothers and we often played school and of course I was the teacher.
  • I absolutely love spending my day with teenagers and helping them learn not only math, but how to negotiate the teen years.  Middle school was a really hard time for me, however several amazing teachers made it great.  I hope every year to do the same for my students.  I am very passionate about math and learning and I try to convey that to my students in many ways.  I have math TOMS, several funny math T-shirts, we decorated pi shaped cookies on pi day and this year I am using songs to teach math concepts.  I will do almost anything to help these kids learn math .
  • I have been following several inspiring math blogs for the last year or so and this summer I joined twitter.  I am hoping to be less of a stalker and more of a contributor is the reason I joined the MathTwitterBlogosphere.Image