Monday, January 23, 2012

3 Fun Online Games For Reviewing Slope and Linear Equations

We've been reviewing finding slope on a graph, using the slope-formula, and writing equations depending on the given information (two points, slope and a point, just the graph) the past two weeks.  These three fun flash games were successful in keeping my students' attention for a full 50 minute period, which doesn't happen frequently.

Algebra vs. The Cockroaches - Cockroaches walk back and forth along a linear path, and you must fill in the slope, y-intercept or both to draw a line to kill them.  It starts with vertical and horizontal lines, then direct variations, then slope and y-intercept together as the levels progress.

Slope-Intercept Game - Students answer questions about the slope of an equation that's not in slope-intercept form, finding the slope of a line between two points, etc. If they get it right, they get to shoot a basketball with a character they customize at the beginning of the game.

Linear Equations Game - The game is called "Save The Zogs" and it works pretty much like Algebra vs. the Cockroaches: find the line where most of the "zogs" are aligned, then write the equation that will "save" them. It starts off pretty easy but gets challenging quickly.

I challenged students to reach certain levels on each game, but they were into them without the goals.  In the Slope-Intercept basketball game, students would play the entire round over again because they wanted to get the answers correct and get more chances to shoot a basket.

If you've found fun, engaging online games for middle or high school math, please share them in the comments.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Is This The Most Facinating Teaching Blog of 2011?

Online PhD ProgramsMy 2008 post Lesson Idea: Probability using Deal or No Deal has been nominated as The Most Fascinating Blog in 2011, in the Teaching Blogs category.  I'm always excited about positive feedback, and it's a great honor to be nominated for this kind of award. 

Voting starts today and ends January 26 at 11:59 PM EST.  If you've used my Deal or No Deal probability game in the past, or just think it's a good idea, I'd love to have your vote. Voting is quick and easy: click on the emblem you see or on this link.

There's a lot of URLs to sort through that are randomly reshuffled for each voter, so look closely for!

Thank you to the person that nominated me, and thanks in advance to anyone who takes the time to vote for me.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Easy Ways to Incorporate Tablets into the Classroom

student_ipad_school - 173 by flickingerbrad, on Flickr
by flickingerbrad, on Flickr
Technology is changing education in some exciting ways, particularly for kindergarten and high school students. eBooks and eReaders, which are already proven to be an effective learning tool for undergraduate and masters degree students, are now being implemented in many primary school classrooms across the country. As a result, students who previously carried heavy backpacks full of large textbooks are now able to lighten the load by carrying all of their textbooks on a tablet. Similarly, teachers are able to teach children more effectively and provide information in new and exciting ways. As more schools realize the value of utilizing tablets in the classroom, more children and teachers will enjoy the benefits of this innovative device.

Out with Large Books, in with a Small Tablet?

Oftentimes students look at the thick textbooks they are given at the beginning of the school year and feel overwhelmed by the amount of material they will have to read and learn. However, when these tomes are replaced by a sleek, modern and small tablet, some educators have found students are much more excited about the school year as their workload seems more manageable.

California middle school teacher, Jeannetta Mitchell explains to KQED that she has experienced this exact phenomenon in her algebra class. According to Mitchell, when students are presented with iPads instead of textbooks, “They believe they're going to learn what they have to form it because they don't see the whole book. They see bits of information as it's presented.” Mitchell also liked that the tablet helps her students learn how to arrive at answers by providing a step by step guide to solving math problems, as opposed to a textbook that simply provides answers in the back of the book.

Innovative Teaching Methods

student_ipad_school - 003 by flickingerbrad, on Flickr
by flickingerbrad, on Flickr
Mitchell adds that she makes good use of the iPads in her classroom by using them to teach video lessons. She feels these lessons are helpful for students since they can view videos of lessons during at home study, giving them more access to the material. Students can even record what the teacher says in class and access it at home as many times as needed. This serves as an excellent alternative to traditional note taking, since students often miss key aspects of a lecture when forced to write everything down by hand.

Educators can also utilize tablets to create interesting power point presentations. The best part about using tablets to create a presentation is that the teacher can make changes during the presentation and add the student's ideas using the stylus to create a personalized and dynamic presentation.

Supplemental Materials Provide Additional Insights

Besides simply producing textbooks, publishers are now also creating supplemental materials for tablets to accompany the books. For example, Pearson offers assessment and gaming apps to go along with their history textbooks. Virginia students are using these tools as part of a pilot program to determine if they are effective or not. Overall the students and teachers involved in the pilot program want to continue, but the transition has not been without growing pains. Teachers cite time spent learning to use the device and choose appropriate content as some of the issues that need to be addressed.

However, overall the teachers are optimistic about incorporating tablets into their classrooms. Math teachers have found apps that help teach students fractions and decimals, while other teachers feel that the supplemental material that can be accessed in addition to the basic textbooks are especially beneficial for students.

Tablets are a relatively new technology, but are gaining popularity very quickly in the classroom. Not only do tablets have the potential to change the way classrooms are run and make learning more exciting, but their versatility and convenience also make them an effective educational tool.

This is a guest post by Marina Salsbury. Marina planned on becoming a teacher since high school, but found her way instead into online writing after college. She writes around the Web about everything from education to exercise.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Feed Your Students a Hot Cup of Alphabet Slope

Years ago I found this short "Sloping Letters" activity which asks students to view the letters of the alphabet as line segments with positive, negative, zero or undefined slopes.  I liked the idea because it makes students focus only on visually identifying slopes, which is a skill that makes all the follow-up easier. 

As we were revisiting slope last week, I took that idea and expanded it: I had my students break down every letter of the alphabet and label the slopes of each segment.  I call it Alphabet Slope.

First, we did quick notes on the four types of slope mentioned above.  The way I explained it, depending on how you look at certain letters, you can break them down in multiple ways: for example, the letter D could be made up of an undefined slope and a non-linear piece as seen above, or you could include two small zero slope segments on the top and bottom.  I didn't go as far as have students turn the letters into blocky versions that had no non-linear parts, but you could very well do that with your kids.

The Sloping Letters activity is a great wrap-up for the Alphabet Slope activity.  It forces the students to look back at their work and think about the pieces. 

If they've studied slope before, this will take about 25-35 minutes, but for students looking at it for the first time, it might take a bit longer.

Alphabet Slope activity (PDF)
Sloping Letters follow-up activity

Do you have other ideas about helping students visually identify slopes, or to think about slope in different ways?  Share them in the comments.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Weekend Reader on Enhancing STEM in Education

Bots High — A Documentary on High School Combat Robots [Wired: GeekDad] - One word: robotics!

The $25 Handheld Computer That Could Transform Technology Education [GOOD] - I'm really excited about this and thinking about getting one for myself.

Creating a New Generation of Computer Science Geniuses [GOOD] - Alternatively, you could enroll your kids in Codeacademy.

A Complete Education in Robot Builder’s Bonanza [Wired: GeekDad] - Sounds like this is the bible for future builders.

Six-Year High School Lets Students Earn a College Degree and a Job at IBM [GOOD] -

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Keep Up With My Curated Lists of YouTube Videos for Math Class

Last semester I started seeking out videos to supplement my teaching.  There are hundreds, often thousands of videos explaining most major topics in math, but most of them simply won't work with my students.  Almost anything with a person in front of a whiteboard or even just problem sets worked out on the screen is unusable, and this unfortunately seems to be the majority of what's out there (at least on YouTube).

What I need are videos that are funny, memorable and engaging so that key topics stay in their brains.  Sometimes I just need a clip that reminds them why it's important to learn math.  The videos also need to be as short as possible, both to fit into the period and to keep my students' fleeting attention.

Here are the 2 lists I've started building:

Shown in Math Class
Suggested for Math Class

I've added comments where I thought they'd be helpful.  While I do teach Algebra 1 and Math Models, I think these will work in a variety of math classes.  I intend to add to each list regularly; please keep me accountable and call me out if I don't!

P.S. If you're skeptical about this, keep in mind that the majority of my students are ninth grade repeaters.  If these videos work for them, they will work for anybody.