Visual Patterns

Have you seen this excellent website? It was like nondenominational math teacher Christmas when I happened upon it!


I definitely blogged last year about the Rectangle Pattern Task, which I’m in love with. I love the mix of linear and quadratic patterns, and the low floor high ceiling aspects. So great! This website has over 200 similar things, aka I do not have to create my own. I emailed Fawn Nguyen who created the site just to say THANKS, and she emailed me right back with the answer key. I did not think I would need it, because I’m super conceited when it comes to my own high school math knowledge, but a couple of those threw me for a loop. I was actually having a ton of trouble with the third one!

This year I decided to use that Rectangle Pattern Task as a springboard into differentiating between linear and quadratic growth. We took some notes which you can kind of see in the background of the next picture, behind some of the visual patterns:


We’re going to do linear modeling as the very next topic, plus we do a ton with quadratic factoring and quadratic modeling later on, so it was really important for them to know what the graphs look like, what the growth is like, and what the equations are like. I’m glad we’re starting with this because we’ll keep referring back to this.

Today I had them in pairs sorting the patterns into a pile for linear, a pile for quadratic, and a pile for neither (the “neither” was a fractal, which is exponential growth). Then they wrote the equations for the linear ones. I was going to start having them write the equations for the quadratic ones, but it was too many objectives for one day. We’ll get to that later when it actually makes sense. Although honestly the linear ones have a clear procedure that always works, and the quadratic ones do not, at least not one which is obvious to me. I’ll keep puzzling with it.


I’m going to see how things go on the assessment, but I felt like I was seeing some breakthroughs. And if they aren’t ready for the assessment, I can give them like 200 practice problems. YAY.

Intro to Math: Circles and Squares

School is back in session! One of the students I tutor apparently has no homework tonight, otherwise I don’t know when I would have had time to put this into writing – things got busy in a hurry.

I’m doing the whole #teach180 thing so if you’re desperate to see more frequent updates from the classroom you can follow me on Instagram, @multiplefactorsi. I’ll be posting every day, held accountable by a reminder on my phone. I hate tiny little red numbers on that screen, so you know I’ll be following the rules.

Anyway! The first week of math class I always do “intro to math.” We started with some talk about what topics in math we were going to do over the year, and then we spent some time on an arts integration project inspired by these tasks for small children. This would have been awesome if we had more time, or maybe they would have gotten old – who can say? A couple students finished them beautifully at home, and others have kept their unfinished projects in case of momentary boredom. I’ll attach that whole assignment.



PDF of the assignment: day-1-arts

The second day was all about seeing things from multiple perspectives and integrating multiple viewpoints into collaborative work. We started with a number talk, something I loved when I first saw it but just never used. I took the one from YouCubed’s “Week of Inspirational Math,” week 2 day 1. I had been very nervous that our conversation would be nothing like the thought-provoking and joyful example video, but this went amazingly. Here’s our board:


Inspired by Sarah at Math = Love, who was in turn inspired by other bloggers, we then launched Broken Circles. That was great! I love hearing students talk about math, but I also loved the no talking rule. It’s also an inspired touch that one circle completes itself. In one group, the person with the “A” pieces sat there, self-satisfied while the rest of the group struggled, and it was kind of glorious. It’s almost like the point of this task was to show that working together and paying attention is crucial.

Between that and our next collaborative task, we went over our group norms. I translated them into Spanish for an extra touch, and perhaps that will inspire me to do more group work in Spanish class? Time will tell.


The end of Wednesday we started the Pentomino task – I blogged about Pentominoes last time I did it, SO long ago! This year I didn’t leave as much time and consequently they didn’t come up with quite as many combinations, but I do still think it was a useful exercise in visualization and pattern recognition. I’m kind of in love with my independent reflection for that task, attached. Why indeed can you not build a 6×6 square?

Independent Reflection PDF: pentomino-ir

Things are shaping up, but I already know I won’t have nearly enough time to blog as I’d like : 0

Factoring Amazing Race

Sometimes I have a strong temptation to use my blog solely for successes and never mention anything that isn’t great within my classroom. But I recently had a realization so simple that I don’t know how my teaching could possibly have been effective before it! Realization: students won’t work together effectively until they are together on a team.

kids amazing racing

We had this excellent all-school camping trip last week, but as a consequence class did not take place for an entire week. I was concerned that they would have forgotten everything, so for my Math 2 class I created an Amazing Race game to review and practice binomial factoring. All along I had been encouraging them to work together and ask each other questions, but everyone was either lost and totally un-focused, or focused on doing their own work, not motivated to help others.

amazing race cards

I had them in 3 groups for the Amazing Race. I put three students who were on the verge of full understanding with an extremely competent but extremely quiet student. My thinking was that the quiet student could shine and the on-the-verge students would quietly listen in order to gain full understanding. This group was fairly effective although never fully cohesive – I mainly saw them interacting one-one-one rather than as a full group. I put four on-the-verge but potentially less-motivated students together so that they would all have to participate fully in order to understand. This went well – some of the best conversations came out of this group. Then I put a brilliant and patient student with a very silly but very smart student and two students on the struggle bus. I think that at least one of the strugglers is doing really well after that, but the other one is still struggling. I’m feeling sad about this but I’ll catch up with her on Make Up Work Day.

Launch – Explore – Discuss

Happy Saturday, blogosphere! I’m currently located at school, about to do my second round of ACT/SAT prep of the day, and furthermore drink my third cup of coffee of the day. In between, my colleagues and I were tabling at a conference for twice-exceptional students. Tabling typically involves me excitedly explaining our school to anyone willing to listen, and ramping up imaginary rivalries with our fellow small schools. I did try to tone that down this time, though, because I suddenly want to do some classroom observations (aka spying) at other small schools.

The congregation of the church we rent our space to is slowly arriving, and that is the only thing weirder than being at school by myself. There are also two cats in the office building instead of just one like usual,

None of this is what I had intended to discuss! I have been implementing and blogging about collaborative learning for years, explaining that we had learned all of these techniques and ideas in college and I had wanted to try it. All this time I had been ignoring what I have recently discovered is an important element: the discussion. What you’re supposed to do is launch the task by explaining the directions and process, have the kids explore the material on their own, and then have a discussion as a full class to bring together their ideas. Since I was so focused on having the kids prove to me and themselves that they knew the material as an individual, I’ve been skipping the last step.

Such a poor choice! Wednesday we spend most of class on a discussion of the Rectangle Pattern Task I discovered last year. I love this task so very much. It’s the physical embodiment of “look for and make use of structure.” As I had learned to do in college, I structured the discussion around which groups had discovered what in a nicely-phrased way, making sure that everyone would have a chance to speak. Here are my notes:


The groups shared the patterns they had recognized. They predicted step 0 as just 2 blue squares, then determined that each time you add 4. To find the pattern, I wrote that out like this:


This made it easier for them to see that the nth iteration would have 2 + 4n blue squares. Love it!

To discover the green and red patterns, which are quadratic, we went more visually. That’s the squares you can make out in my notebook. The students described that the pattern of green squares is that on each side, you add another row, and that row will include 2 more than the previous. I drew this out as they described it:

structure A

Then I asked them to find the largest square in the first one. They said 1. I asked for the largest square in the second. They said 4 at first, then clarified that that was 2 by 2. For the last one, someone pointed out that there are many different 2 by 2 squares in there, which is true. I asked them if they could re-arrange the boxes to create a larger square than that (should I have waited to pose this?). One poetically described that process as “you take the wings off of the bird, and you put them on the bottom.” I illustrated it slightly differently, and then gave everyone paper to cut in order to create squares. This was the end result here:

structure B

The pattern for one side is then n squared plus n!

The next day the room was entirely silent and productive as brilliant math learners completed their independent reflections and then determined the patterns on yet another set of box designs. Next week we’ll discuss those, then I want to give them an assessment on this [which I have yet to write], and then we’ll work on factoring in a hopefully visual / non-terrible way.

Group Norms

Working collaboratively is an incredibly important skill, and increasingly so. So in addition to teaching math, I’ve been working on strategies for teaching communication and collaboration skills.

I got a jump on this during bonding week this year. Every year we divide the school into small groups of maybe 5 or 6 and task them with creating boats. We have this rotation – year 1 these boats are strictly cardboard and duct tape, year 2 strictly trash bags and duct tape, and year 3 cardboard, trash bags, and duct tape. It’s year 3 but this picture is from last year:

boats for blog

Chaos, right? But super fun chaos, and we get more buy-in than you’d expect. Even still, we had noticed this tendency for boat group communication to be subpar. The groups would usually defer to the ideas of whoever was loudest, kids sometimes got mad that their idea didn’t feel listened to, and without a teacher consistently in the room (which would ruin it in other ways), it was totally OK to not participate for kids who didn’t feel like it.

So this year we had them do limited-resource challenges in small groups, and then reflect on these group dynamics upon entering their boat groups. We orchestrated the groups so that nobody was in a group with someone they just worked with, so they could talk openly about their experience. I wrote up a set of reflection questions:

Communication Discussion Questions:
1. What was the most challenging part of communicating with your previous group?
2. Did you feel that your ideas were listened to?
3. Did you always feel comfortable sharing your ideas?
4. Did you feel that you listened to other ideas? Why/ why not?
5. What qualities in someone else make them easy to communicate/collaborate with?
6. What qualities in someone else make them difficult to communicate/collaborate with?
7. Do you find it helpful when someone steps up to be the leader, or does that make you more reluctant to share?
8. What can you do as a group member to make sure nobody is dominating the discussion?
9. What can you do as a group member to make sure quieter people are joining in?
10. What can you do as a group member to make the decision-making process easier?

So now in my math 2 class we’ve started our first group task, the rectangle pattern task I discovered last year. Before breaking into groups we went over the group norms, based on concepts we talked about in my college classes and the book Designing Groupwork by Elizabeth Cohen. Group norms:

For a productive group…
1) Stay in your group
2) Ask the other group members first
3) Everyone is accountable for what the group is doing
4) You are responsible to ask for and offer help

I like the last one best although the first one is a close second.

Best question ever: “wait – are we doing this to practice working in groups or to learn the math?” Answer – both!!! I think I exclaimed that with three exclamation points in class as well.

Tomorrow we finish the task in math 2 and launch the vector fields task in math 4.

Intro to Math Week Year 3: Arts Integration Edition

Just finished my last academic day of the first academic week of the school year. As it has been for the last couple of years, this week is “intro to math week,” and this year I focused specifically on arts integration, keeping the mathematical standards of practice front and center.

On day 1 we spent some time on the syllabus, focusing on class procedures and previewing the upcoming units. Thanks to keeping this blog I have plenty of pictures of previous classes doing the work they’ll be doing, so it’s not just a line about functions or data or whatnot on a sheet of paper. Then I had them each take a Math Attitude Survey. Somewhat unsurprisingly, most of the new ones had some pretty negative associations with math. Kids also weirdly LOVE sharing bad experiences in math classrooms, so it’s a nice first day icebreaker. I took everyone’s three words and put them into a word cloud:

math word cloud 2015

I’ve always been too scared to re-administer the survey at the end of the year, but I think I should do it, or at least have them give me three words again.

The next day was all about arts integration. I had them re-examine the mathematical practices and compare them to the National Core Arts Standards, since I had personally noticed so many great links. Some of them were a little unsure at first, or had trouble understanding what individual standards meant, but they didn’t shy away from asking each other or me for clarification, and the resulting conversations were pretty cool.

art and math

Then we watched this TED talk by Daina Taimina, or at least most of it – it’s super long [for my kids’ attention spans & non-university math levels] and the important parts are at the beginning and end. I love this talk so much though. It inspires me to see her construct her own understanding, especially given her initial troubles with the subject, I enjoy seeing stereotypes smashed, and is the perfect example of arts integration. The art form makes the mathematics more concrete and comprehensible, and the mathematics provides structure and context for some interesting-looking pieces.

Typically I have some major emphasis on group norms, but I didn’t want to insert something else random into this week, so instead today we just had an extended journal reflection and then dove right into our first topics. I’ll teach them the group norms as we start doing our first group tasks. I realized earlier that I’ve never actually blogged the group norms, so I’m working on a separate post about that.

So far things are going well BUT hey it’s only the first week.

“Learn What You Missed Week” and MI stations

Greetings! I have recently returned from this year’s senior trip. As you can see from my wrist accessories, we went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.


We can worry about how cool my tattoo is later. Anyway, before the trip happened we were back in class for 2 days after exams. I will be honest and say that I was not extremely in favor of this decision – I did not feel like I could come up with 2 days worth of engaging lessons on “going over the test.” Ick. Instead of trying to fix every mistake they made on the test and magically make them understand what they hadn’t just one week prior, I created an initially simple-seeming activity.

For each of my classes I identified the three most-missed objectives. In case you are curious, for math 4 they were modular arithmetic, fractals, and summation notation (sigma). For math 3 they were complex number operations, data, and exponential growth and decay. Finally, for math 2 they were factoring, similar figures, and probability. Then for each of the 3 objectives I found or created (usually created) a task for each of the 9 intelligences in Gardner’s theory. Those are: interpersonal, intrapersonal, existential, naturalistic, logical/mathematical, visual/spatial, verbal/linguistic, musical, and kinesthetic.

So that’s 3 classes x 3 objectives x 9 intelligences = 81 tasks. Luckily the art objective for exponential growth also worked for fractals so actually just 80 but still! Luckily again, these went really well, and it was all worth it.


This was the kinesthetic data task, where they had to throw the paper glob a bunch of times and record the distance, then find the mean, median, etc. I like the looks of that full page of mathematical text – that is not the work of an un-engaged math learner. This also shows the bin of algebra tiles, which I’ve never seriously used but actually really like. I experimented with them for the kinesthetic factoring task, and I think they have potential.


I printed the tasks on colored paper and cut them out so that they could just select one and then grab it and do it. Can you slightly see that the big one has music notes on it? I think that particular music task was one of the ones that was a bit of a stretch actually – they had to look at the notes and graph the melody on a complex plane, which probably doesn’t have musical meaning. The best ever musical task was the musical data one. I drew inspiration from this & had them record data about their favorite songs’ danceability, valence, and speechiness.


There’s a lot going on in this picture. The picture of ghosts was for a task inspired by this which is very neat. The reason why it is ghosts is probably because of the manipulatives I created to practice multiplying complex numbers. Those are in the blue cup in the front of the picture. They are pretty much algebra tiles, only instead of “x” blocks there are positive and negative ghosts to represent i. The positive ghosts are smiling and the negative ones are frowning. It was cute, initially confusing, and potentially very effective.

I’m done teaching until the fall but I think I will still have plenty of things to write about. We shall see.