Seven Videos Left

This school year, to no one’s surprise, has been a grind. But I would also say if you think about it, we shouldn’t be surprised innovation has been seen in large amounts too. While some of it was required, other parts for teachers coming up with new ideas on their own or extending ideas they needed to do.

While last spring was survival mode, I experimented enough with a streaming program OBS Studio to know that I wanted to learn more over the summer and use it to produce videos for my AP Stats class in the fall that were far more professional than what I put together in the spring. I also vowed to put my entire set of lessons on YouTube by the end of the year. As we are in review mode for the AP Exam, I have seven videos left to make and I’m done for the most part. I have a few to fill in but besides those special episodes, I’m done. Honestly, it will be weird when it’s complete.

The biggest takeaway from my, “teacher tries to become YouTuber,”experience? I read early on in getting OBS Studio setup is to just start recording and praying and it’s so true. There’s always going to be things to tweak. Once you get something you’re mostly happy with, hit record and get going. And as your learn more over your recordings, you’ll make the tweaks and get better. I found with something like recording a course, I would make bigger changes (layouts, adding an outro at the end, etc.) when I changed units as they were natural breaks. Some things, like thumbnails and titles that have better keyword recognition, you can easily change retroactively as you have time. Things like discovering WeVideo to edit your videos easily, you just have to live with the fact some videos aren’t as polished as others.

As teachers we often try to make sure we have things as perfect as possible. The big take away from my video experience is that often just jumping in is the best way to find what works for you. Which if you think about it, is much how we ask our students to act in class. Try this. If you make a mistake, fix it. You’ll get better the more you do it. We just need to remember to take our own advice sometimes.

Posted in #MTBoS, Best Practice, General, Statistics, Teaching | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Experience First, Formalize Later for Algebra 1 Systems

In January 2020, a friend and I were able to go to a StatsMedic Pop-Up Workshop and see the lessons in action. It was a great Saturday. We were able to see the lessons in action, get some of the insights on the hows-and-whys, and hear the Experience First, Formalize Later (EFFL) philosophy. After that weekend, I came back to school excited to start tweaking a lot of what I had been doing.

Since my AP Statistics was in EFFL form, I started on the next unit for Algebra – Systems of Equations (click to see and download the lessons). The engagement of my classes was great. Students were commenting, “the period’s done already?” And just like what I had seen in reviewing for the AP Exam in my Stats class, students were referring back to the situations when we were reviewing for quizzes and tests. And while I can’t tell you definitively that test scores were better (we were prepping for potentially going remote due to COVID-19), I can tell you kids were engaged in my classroom. Engaged kids make for fewer classroom management issues. I never heard, “I’m not going to use this.” Both of those are wins in my mind. I did tighten up the lessons a bit, these are pretty much how they were presented to my Algebra classes (two facilitated with a special education teacher and one standard).

In class, I didn’t go through all of these all in a row. For each solving technique, we did the lesson(s) and then spent at least one day of practice in class. Those practice days were usually standard review days (kids working, us focusing on students with struggles) or we were doing Vertical Non Permanent Surfaces in random groups
(Alex Overwijk’s blog post is worth a read – it changed how I do a lot in my classroom). Either way, students were engaged as they had a better idea of what was going on and while I had our Algebra Learning Cards in the past, looking at the Important Ideas boxes served the same purpose.

My goal this year was to try to re-write the entire Algebra curriculum so the lessons were in EFFL format. But like you, goals were rewritten by words like remote, hybrid, and the like. I’m hoping that once things settle down to get back to writing EFFL for Algebra and will share those as I build them as well.

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Keeping Classroom Calculators

I saw this idea in the classroom of one of my kids’ teachers a few years ago. And I finally got around to implementing it on my own.

The original idea was on mini-clipboards but it was cheaper to just get the board by itself. From there a drill, some painters tape, a little Gorilla Glue, and Command Wire Hooks and you’re all set.

A few suggestions:

  • Before drilling the holes, put some painters tape on both sides to help keep the wood from splintering when you drill through it.
  • Get the Gorilla Glue Gel. It helps ensure more than just the little bumps affix to the board.
  • Calculators on eBay, with some patience, can be had for about $8 each including shipping.

It’s pretty straight forward. They are on the wall near the corner in the front of my room. Easy for me to see at end of the period, ready to grab, but not terribly obvious if students are self-conscious about it. The board makes it so you can’t forget it’s not yours whole packing up. I did a cheaper version years ago with Velcro but this works so much better.

ETA: fixed bad links

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Making PDFs of Worksheets without a Scanner in Google Drive

I was looking to scan some documents at home and came across this option in Google Drive I hadn’t seen before. After talking with a few tech savvy colleagues (they hadn’t seen it either),  I thought I would share it.

To make a PDF with your phone, first…




…launch the Google Drive app on your phone. From there, click on the add (+) button.






click on the scan option. Take a photo of the document.









A preview of the document is shown. If it looks good, click on the check mark. If you need to adjust the crop, click on the cropping symbol.







To adjust the crop, move the handles to where you want them.

Then click on the check mark. The


PDF will…






…be in your list of files, ready to go. File names will always start with, “Scanned_” followed by the date.

Ready to share!

Any tech tips that you know but most don’t? Feel free to share in the comments!


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Need Help with Privacy During Testing?

A few years ago, I was able to get pentagonal tables in my classroom. I love them 90% of the time. The only time I didn’t was when I was giving a test or quiz. For a few years, I used binders for students after seeing colleagues use manila folders. It worked but I wasn’t satisfied – I had students hiding their phones and at 12″ tall, the binders stopped some of the glancing but it was still easy to peer over.

Last year, came up with an idea for a wall using corrugated plastic sheets and some countertop material her dad made slits in to support the sheets. They worked really well but the plastic was pricey and I didn’t have a countertop-cutting dad. During the first quiz last year, I was using a binder clip on a stack of quizzes and after some playing around with some small mockups, I came up with the following:


56 large binder clips from Amazon (affiliate link) and large pre-cut sheets of cardboard (the above are 18″ by 24″), I had my, “Anti-cheat-a-nator 3000s,” as I call them for about $1.50 each. I had thought about cutting cardboard from boxes but after finding the sheets of cardboard for around 80¢ each, it was a no brainer. Incidentally, they show up like this – 50 to a pack. Find a friend with whom to split them or save the extras.


The only thing I plan to tweak on these is to maybe add a little more weight to the bottom. The larger clips provide a decent amount of stability (medium clips do not work) but nothing a pair of squirrelly 9th graders can’t overcome.

Anyway, hope this inspires you and as always, share your experience and tweaks below!

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Need a Hands-On Way to Introduce Piecewise Functions? Try this.

A friend at work reminded me of this activity today. Charles teaches the Advanced Algebra/Algebra 2 course I taught a few years ago and mentioned how much he liked this. I remembered the impact it had on the kids so I thought I would share it.

Quick edit: my former colleague Jenny reminded me of the original source of this. I truly couldn’t remember if this was original or not. Thanks for sharing the source material in the comments.

Piecewise functions always seems to trip up students. It’s a tad abstract but still pretty obtainable so I was always frustrated when my students struggled. One night before I taught it, I had this idea for a hands-on activity. (PDF version; Word version)

First, I had the students graph two functions (I chose two linear functions for sake of ease for the first time I did this), each on its own set of axis:


From there, students graphed x = 1 on both graphs.


Then the scissors came out and cut the graphs out and then split the graphs on the x = 1 line. See where I’m going with this?


From there, I have the students take the left side of Graph 1 and the right side of Graph 2 and glue/tape them onto a new set of axes.


From there, I introduce the piecewise function notation in addition to dealing with the “which-graph-do-I-use-at-x=1” question. We finalize it here:


There are then two three-part piecewise functions to work on.

It turned out to be one of those relatively simple activities that pays off in big ways. Students immediately got the start-stop idea. Some students graphed the parts separately and cut and paste the homework questions. And most importantly, the understanding of the concept was better as were the scores.

Here again are the links to the files (PDF version; Word version). If you have any issues with downloading the files, e-mail me or reply to the tweet. And please let me know how it goes if you use this or some variation of it.

Posted in #MTBoS, Activities, Algebra, Classroom, Fun Problems | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Classroom Calendar

As promised here’s the story/tweak/how-to on my latest creation, my classroom calendar. As always, scroll down to the, “how to,” section if you’d like to cut-to-the-chase.

A few years ago, most of the math classrooms at my school were painted to become dry-erase board. Given I had two walls with 24′ chalkboards, it was A LOT of white in my room. After a couple of days of working in a room that felt like an operating room (my students would say Antarctica given the temperature), I brought in some painter’s tape (affiliate link) from home to break up the gargantuan white spaces into four separate spaces. A few months later, the vertical setup of my calendar continued to prove problematic for students across the room trying to see the bottom. Given the fact the painter’s tape removed cleanly two months after the fact, I quickly fashioned this version of the calendar seen in a pic from a post last year:

Painters Tap

Last spring, I came across the idea of Vertical Non-Permanent Surfaces and Visible Random Groupings (aka VNPSs) on SlamDunkMath. I’m late to that party, I realize but hey I showed up. Check that out if you have a chance. It was fun to see some students come out of their shells with it. But as you can see at over twelve feet, my calendar took out a large portion of what I could have my students use. I planned on resolving that over the summer.

This past week during in-service, I ran to my local big-box home improvement store for a 4 foot by 8 foot piece of melamine/shower board and hopefully have them cut it down. Found the boards in the paneling section but didn’t find any personnel to do the cutting. I did find, however, pre-cut 2 foot by 4 foot pieces. A little pricier and smaller than I wanted but then I had an idea: what if I used a few of these for the calendar and used the new dry-erase boards from our recent model for their original intentions?

Putting things together:

By the end of the project, I purchased two 2′ by 4′ boards, a roll of 1″ of painters tape, and some large Command hooks. The top of the installed dry erase boards are grooved and were thick enough to support the calendar boards. In fact the new boards leaned nicely against the wall. Not wanting to chance the boards falling, I used the Command hooks to keep the top of the boards from moving off the wall as pictured here:


I left a little bit of a gap so I could then move each board an inch horizontally and just enough vertically to get out of the groove of the installed board and take them down to write on them. I know from our global compliance training our HR office is thankful for that. If reaching the top of the board would be too much for you, I would recommend using a number of Command strips to support the boards from below as I’ve read of teacher’s doing to make additional space for VNPSs. The blue painter’s tape is great for marking off the days in addition to covering the edges so they don’t peel apart.

Here’s the final version. Kids can see it from anywhere. It’s hard to write on when it’s in place so it’s harder to sabotage. My classes have more room to write math problems on the board. #missionaccomplished


Hopefully you get a little inspiration out of this – please share either on Twitter so everyone can see or e-mail. I’d love to see what you create!

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How Much Would Zero McNuggets Cost?

I promise I will get graphical evidence on this (and probably a worksheet) tomorrow but this is real-life problem is too good to wait.

It was one of those nights where there were plans and supper was forgotten about until too late. So supper was provided by McDonalds. I go through the drive-thru and was about to order 10-pack of McNuggets for $3.99. Then I notice that a 6-pack of McNuggets were on the McPick 2 Menu meaning that two 6-packs of McNuggets could be purchased for $3.00. What a deal! This got me thinking:

  • How much would it cost to buy no McNuggets?
  • How many McNuggets could you get for free?

Of course for the classroom, you could add the, “how do you know?” or, “explain your thinking.” Better questions would be:

  • How would go about finding out how much buy no McNuggets would cost?
  • What would you do to find out how many McNuggets would be in a free pack?

As I said, I will prepare better and get a picture of the menu and pull things together into a worksheet. Lots of good prediction and discussion to be had with this one.

Posted in Algebra, Classroom, Fun Problems | Leave a comment

Some Fun Problems for Your Classroom

As with any profession, you often see the world through that filter. Ever read Math Curse? I’m there all the time (unless we’re spinning things into a reality show). When I see something, I try to quantify things. Sometimes I play around with turning things into math problems for class though nowhere near some of the stuff you see from people like Dan Meyer.

This week a friend at work (Brian is worth a follow) tossed me the name of Cliff Pickover given the wide range of things he posts on mathematics (some serious, random questions and facts, etc.) As I looked through Cliff’s feed yesterday, two posts caught my attention, and I took a few minutes to spin them into something we could use in the classroom. I thought I would share them with you here.

Problem one is a modeling problem based on the increase in capacity of microSD cards, perfect for kids to make and compare linear and exponential models.  Continue reading

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Bucket Lists and Stretching Yourself

Bucket lists. BefFeatured imageore the movie came out, I just thought it was list of things to do. Regardless there’s something said about stretching yourself. If you know me, you’ve probably heard me talk about the Amazing Race. The show’s host Phil Keoghan has a philosophy of No Opportunity Wasted. Same idea – find the opportunity and take it.

My list changes as everyone’s does. I wanted to spend a little time with #1 on my list. I want to be on the Amazing Race. I’ve watched every season. I’ve talked with cast members. I’ve applied 13 times now. I’ve talked to cast members about applying. I love the show and it’s on my bucket list. I love travel, I love adventure. It’s made for me. I would make great television. I would win. Period. Done. The part I want to talk about isn’t so much applying but the reaction to my applying. Continue reading

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