So I stole an idea from Dan Meyer – *SHOCKER*

Dan Meyer provided our district’s math department with two days of PD in June.  I liked the homework he assigned to us, and I’m in the process of merging his idea with a problem-solving plan for a longer-term mini-project of sorts.

For their first homework assignment of the school year, my new crew of 7th and 8th graders were each asked to bring an image to class they believed would evoke lots of interesting questions.  I asked them to put on a “math lens” and look at the world as a place where math happens.  I showed an example photo that I had taken several weeks ago at our community pool’s picnic pavilion.

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Loving those triangles







I provided students with this template:

The Math Cam Day 1

On Day 2, we had a “gallery walk” where students walked about the room examining the images.  They were asked to write one question on each person’s paper in their row of desks, and return to their own seat to see what questions others had written.  Some students asked for an example of a question, but I politely refused to provide any. :-)

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Math Cam Gallery Walk

Just about every student was surprised by the questions written by their peers.  Virtually no one asked/wrote the question that the image-bearer expected to be asked.  Pretty neat.  Here are a few samples.  One of my favorites was the Target logo – you can’t get more familiar than a logo like that, and yet, how many students saw math when they looked at that logo prior to our class?  Who will see math when they view that logo from now on? ;-)

The shirt I was wearing

The shirt I was wearing

I could see students’ perspectives shifting before my eyes.  One student’s hand shot straight in the air after having some sort of math epiphany.  She said, “Mrs. Yenca, I’m starting to see math in your shirt!”

I encouraged students to use their iPhones and iPads to begin capturing and sharing images with the class and me, so that we can make connections throughout the school year.  Eventually, whether students use this initial image or find a new one, I’d like them to develop a question and see a problem through to a solution or resolution using a 4-step problem solving model.  To be continued…



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#EanesPLC – Our Second Annual Professional Learning Conference (Buckle Up!)

Screen Shot 2014-08-16 at 8.43.18 AMThere’s a fine line between “overwhelmed” and “empowered”.

I straddled that line at our school district’s second annual “Professional Learning Conference” this week.  Eanes ISD does a FANTASTIC job of inviting world-renowned educators to work with our entire district faculty.  A detailed schedule of workshop choices, with session resources neatly packaged in an iTunes U course (not to mention food trucks parked outside serving local goods for lunch) really set the stage for the new school year.

This was not a touchy-feely event.  This event was packed with profound statements that raise big questions about why we do what we do.  I’ll attempt to share a few of my biggest a-ha take-aways, giving credit to the experts who provided the research behind these claims.  Yes, these folks taught our faculty, in-the-flesh.  I have gotten to learn FIRSTHAND from some truly respected legends in education. #grateful


1) Formative Assessment is the answer.

I don’t even think the question matters when it comes to teaching and learning… the answer is simply… formative assessment! (being a little tongue-in-cheek… sort of!) 
Dylan Wiliam 
emphasized the importance of teachers creating a culture of continuous improvement (saying that these two-day conferences don’t work, ha!).  Want to have an impact?  Work in Professional Learning Communities (we have PLCs every school day).  Focus on classroom formative assessment and teachers changing their assessment practices, yet customizing and choosing techniques that resonate with each of us and our own students.Screen Shot 2014-08-16 at 7.36.35 AM
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To take Wiliam’s work further… we have iPads with fantastic tools that can effectively and efficiently assess student thinking!  WE CAN DO THIS… and WE ARE DOING THIS!  I found Dylan Wiliam’s message to be an affirming pat-on-the-head AND push to be better.


2) It’s unwise to over-grade student work.

Carol Ann Tomlinson‘s words here can’t be taken out of context.  She stressed the importance of grading too!  Our grades should be based on specific learning targets, should be criterion-based (versus in competition… I sure hope no one grades on a curve…) and must be free of what Carol Ann calls “grade fog”.  That means… no extra credit, no grading homework, and grading student work LATER in the learning cycle rather than EARLIER.  (THINK – growth mindset)  This tweet quantifies Tomlinson’s claim to stop grading everything that kids do.  LIBERATING and AFFIRMING, again, in light of the fantastic tools we have on our iPads.

Wiliam reinforced this very idea when he shared the “hyper-correction effect” with us.  He explained if a student gets something wrong, then fixes it… the next time the student is asked about the topic he/she first got wrong, then corrected, he/she will get it right MORE OFTEN than a kid who got it right initially. Can we say, counterintuitive?  Making mistakes and correcting them are KEY PARTS of learning, and shouldn’t penalize our students through a “grade”.  Wiliam said, “Mistakes are evidence that the work I’ve given you was worth your time.”  (Looks like Jo Boaler has heard and is spreading this message as well, specifically with respect to learning mathematics.)


3)  Core learning goes up when the arts are integrated.

Dr. Frank Locker and Dr. Kevin Washburn reinforced each other in my mind.  Dr. Locker shared amazing 21st Century learning spaces, and resources to see how other schools are using project-based learning in these spaces.  We need to help our students with oral communication skills, working in groups, and using technology.  Locker suggested that we apply Gardner’s work to vary our instructional practices, and consider integrating the arts… yes, even in math class!  Later in the day, Dr. Washburn walked us through the Core Processes of Learning (experience, comprehension, elaboration, application).  Washburn shared that “application” is brain-friendly when Garder’s work allows students to reprocess presented information by writing a theme song, for example.  Students need to be engaged in explaining the connections.  It’s not the other creative FORM that we’re after here… it’s the thinking and the process to create that form that is going to construct new learning!  For me personally, Locker and Washburn affirmed WHY using the creative tools on iPad contribute so well to student learning, while potentially bringing the arts to core subjects along the way.

THIS is why I want to use Book Creator more effectively.

THIS is why I want students to create more ThingLinks and videos.

THIS is why involving students in creating content matters so much.

There are my top three a-ha moments.  I am not doing them justice, but I hope at the very least that IF YOU ARE STILL READING… you will pick an idea here to further research and employ in your own practice.

THE Dylan Wiliam at #EanesPLC

THE Carol Ann Tomlinson at #EanesPLC

Discussing Learning Spaces with Dr. Frank Locker #EanesPLC


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Book Creator and Advocacy: A Summer eBook Project About Food Allergies

Screen Shot 2014-08-06 at 7.00.53 PMI’m going to prominently wear my “mom hat” for this post.

My son has severe food allergies.  In a day and age where this is more prevalent than ever (unfortunately) I’ve found the best way to protect those who have this very serious health condition is through education.  It’s tough to understand how having food allergies can make the simplest everyday events complex and potentially dangerous.  There’s a sinking fear every time my son leaves my care and is entrusted to other adults, or a meal is prepared for him by a friend, family member, or chef instead of me.  It’s an invisible force that’s ever-present.

Screen Shot 2014-08-06 at 7.01.23 PMRewind to last month, when fellow ADE Douglas Kiang gave a showcase presentation at the Institute in San Diego, and mentioned an app that allowed kids to express their feelings about having parents who were divorced. When I heard this idea, something clicked in my mind and heart.  I was literally brought to tears in my seat at the call to help my son create a resource to promote advocacy and understanding of food allergies.  I thought Book Creator for iPad would be the perfect tool so this resource could easily be shared with the whole world.

Screen Shot 2014-08-06 at 7.02.15 PMMy son has been working on this eBook for a few weeks.  Besides sharing the ePub file with you (which can be opened in iBooks as a neat-o multi-touch book), I was tickled to also have the ability to export the eBook as a video, thanks to that nifty Book Creator feature.  The video is 8 minutes long, and is available on YouTube.  Both the ePub file and video link are available below.

Our hope is that one boy’s story can educate thousands.  Please share this book with families, friends, school nurses, teachers, and anyone who may be entrusted with caring for our precious ones.

Thanks most sincerely!

Here’s the ePub file, which will give you a multi-touch eBook that opens in iBooks:Screen Shot 2014-08-06 at 7.24.31 PM




Here’s the exported video version of the book:

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Math, Music, and iMovie (No Turning Back Now)

When I first started teaching in the late 1990s, I offered an optional bonus-point-earning project to my students right before Christmas break.  The task: pick a friend or two, and rewrite a popular Christmas carol given a list of math vocabulary words as a help.  Students transformed and performed “math carols” in costume on the last day of class before the long-awaited vacation.  It was absolutely painful, but memorable and dare-I-say educational. ;-)  Did I mention performing the carol in front of the class earned twice the bonus points as just simply writing and submitting one…?

Fast-forward to 2014… students now have iPads, GarageBand, iMovie, and countless content creation tools at their fingertips.  That painful project has potential for revival and vast improvement in this 21st century.

Why wait until Christmas?  Well, I didn’t.  Here’s my sample project.  I’ll keep this one up my sleeve and show it to students at just the right time (if ever!)  Math music videos?  I’m thinking that could rock.  Don’t underestimate the amount of content one could pack into a 3 or 4 minute song.  Here are a few TEKs I think my math cover version of “Try” touches upon:

8.1(D) communicate mathematical ideas, reasoning, and their implications using multiple representations, including symbols, diagrams, graphs, and language as appropriate 

8.1(F) analyze mathematical relationships to connect and communicate mathematical ideas 

8.4(A) use similar right triangles to develop an understanding that slope, m, given as the rate comparing the change in y-values to the change in x-values, (y2 – y1)/(x2 – x1), is the same for any two points (x1, y1) and (x2, y2) on the same line 

8.5(B)  represent linear non-proportional situations with tables, graphs, and equations in the form of y = mx + b, where b ≠ 0 

8.5(I) write an equation in the form y = mx + b to model a linear relationship between two quantities using verbal, numerical, tabular, and graphical representations

Be kind. ;-)

(P.S. If you’re not familiar, here’s the original song with its own great message to young ladies!)

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T-Shirts: Some Real-Life Math in Need of Act 3…?

IMG_7673This post is based on a true story… how it ends is where I need your help!  Think of it like a “choose-your-own-adventure” book… except you get a say-so in authoring it.

True story: I ordered a rockin’ Estimation 180 t-shirt from my math pal, Andrew Stadel.  I ordered a “medium” but it was a little snug for my taste.  I wondered… could we do something to be proactive and help other ladies order the correct size?  How do folks determine t-shirt sizes anyway?

So, I measured a few of my favorite size “medium” t-shirts and sent the data along to Andrew.  It appeared his size “medium” was a little smaller than other “mediums.”  After completing the exchange process, I’m happily wearing a size “large”… but is that it?  Is that the end to a story involving Estimation 180 t-shirts and measurement?!?

My wheels were turning, I had already gathered a bit of data, and this tweet shows up from Andrew:

Well aren’t those numbers purdy?  Except, my task isn’t so purdy… I’ve got to act!

Except… I’m missing Act 3!

Act 1:

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Act 2:

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image 2Sure, I have ideas of where to go with this, keeping 8th grade and Algebra 1 TEKs in mind… but it’s so much fun to ask you… where would you go next, based on the students and courses you’ll be teaching this fall?

And a bigger question… what if I *don’t* create a specific Act 3?  Is it okay to just leave this thing open and see what students will do with it?  What if I have several choose-your-own-adventure options up my sleeve, prepared to explore with students, but I don’t force upon them what *I* think Act 3 should be?  Discuss.

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ADE Institute Highlights #ADE2014

photo367 Apple Distinguished Educators from 31 countries met for five days in San Diego, California last week, and I was honored to be counted among them.  This year’s institute was a unique experience because each of us wore a “learner hat” all week as we became “citizen scientists”.  Incredible off-site experiences were balanced with on-site workshops and time for collaboration.  And food.  Lots of food.  ;-)  Thanks to all who planned every meticulous detail of a truly memorable experience.

My 45 seconds of fame on the big screen at #ADE2014!


To catch a glimpse of memories made, check out my first ever “sketch note” created with Paper by FiftyThree and embellished with media thanks to ThingLink.  Click around to access resources… especially if you teach science!  Here’s to the lifelong learners and friendships that make being an ADE an every day event.

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*NEW* ThingLink for Video

Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 9.20.59 AMI just got back to Austin after two weeks in Pennsylvania and New York visiting family and friends.  I hope your summer also affords you opportunities to relax, disconnect from devices, and reconnect with the people you care about most!

Since I’ve been on the road, I haven’t been a very good student of this summer’s ThingLink Teacher Challenge.  No pressure though!  The ThingLink Teacher Challenge is a weekly free summer PD opportunity that you can join at any time, or just lurk to get ideas on ways to use ThingLink this fall with your new batch of kiddos.

This week’s ThingLink Teacher Challenge was to create a flipped lesson and give the brand new ThingLink for Video feature a try.  Instead of first using this new tool to teach a math lesson (I told you I’ve been a bad summer PD student), I created a fun re-cap to highlight an amazing ride from my visit to Pittsburgh’s Kennywood Park.  (Never been there? You should go!)  I’ve always been a coaster and thrill-ride fanatic and my 9-year-old son seems to have the same itch.  That’s us on the Black Widow!

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ThingLink for Video was simple to use.  First, I did some minor editing in iMovie.  I uploaded the video to YouTube, and entered the YouTube URL when prompted by ThingLink for Video.  Then, I was able to drag “nubbins” into the video at specific spots, making them visible for 5, 10 or 15 seconds.  Every nubbin forced a URL to be entered, even though I wanted a few of the nubbins to show text only.  ThingLink for Video limits the number of characters that are visible for each nubbin as well.  Since the nubbins defaulted to black font and a black background, I tried to customize colors using this.  The background changed to red, and the font changed to yellow (which is much better) but I didn’t enter values that were supposed to result in red or yellow (odd).  Maybe there’s another way to adjust the color on the nubbins and text?  Suggestions welcome!

I think ThingLink for Video has classroom potential.  I wonder if I might prefer using EdPuzzle instead because it affords assessment opportunities?  Perhaps each tool will have a place.  Check out my first ThingLink for Video project below.

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iPadpalooza 2014 Highlights #iplza14

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This year’s iPadpalooza “festival of learning” was a real treat.  How can anyone summarize in a blog post what it was like to be there? Thankfully, we have #iplza14 on Twitter to help us all reminisce, and to help you gain insight even if you were only there in spirit.


Sharing what you’re passionate about isn’t always pretty. However, my childhood orthodontist would be pleased.

While I didn’t attend the entire iLead Academy on Day 1, I had the chance to represent Hill Country Middle School at a “poster session” prior to the opening keynote from *THE* Sugata Mitra.  It’s always fun to connect with educators in person with whom I’ve connected only virtually prior.  For me, conferences learning festivals such as iPadpalooza have become less about the session titles and more about spending time hearing from educators whose work I follow, respect, and admire.

Here are a few examples of those great professionals.  Check out session resources (select the plus sign nubbins), and be intentional about getting connected with them.  Follow the #iplza14 story, as well as the highlights in my own Storify below. Thanks to all who were involved in the iPadpalooza #bigdeal ideas… all the way down to the tiniest details involved in planning this fantastic event.  And while you’re at it, mark your calendars for June 23-25, 2015!

P.S. Don’t miss the formative assessment resources from my own #iplza14 session, posted in the ThingLink below.  Thanks to all who came!



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I already know what I want to do on the first day of school.

My (former) students are probably still sleeping on this fine Sunday morning, and here I am, thinking about the first day of school in August.  It’s not entirely my fault.  I just had two days of PD with (THE) Dan Meyer and my wheels are turning.

Screen Shot 2014-06-08 at 10.38.10 AMI’ve been an avid follower of Dan’s for years, but having him stop through our district to work with us in person sends a powerful message (in my mind).  We’re all learning how to incorporate PLCs, iPads, and big ol’ district semester “common assessments” (you better “cover” half the curriculum by the halfway point in the school year… or else!) while still maintaining strategies and problem-solving tasks that sometimes make a pacing guide little more than a (theoretical) suggestion.

Having Dan come to work with our math faculty makes me feel like I have been granted permission to do more of what I know works with kids in my teaching.  I feel empowered to set aside the pacing guide a little more, and though time will inevitably *still* be my enemy, I’m not going to let it rule my classroom quite so much, or use it as a reason to *not* do what my kids need.

I’m going to be brutally honest here.  I created this resource two years ago and I have never used it with students.   And that makes me sad.  So, as part of more typical beginning of the year routines, I want to make this task our first assignment of the year.  I want students to start day 1 of my classes seeking curiosities and relevance, making connections to math and “the real world” of a middle schooler, encouraging the simple but powerful idea of questioning, all the while very intentionally introducing a model for problem-solving.

Here’s a sample of “The Math Cam” template at work.  I created it.  It’s time to let kids do something with it.  I can see this as a strategy to use throughout the school year.  I see value in students’ sharing their photos with one another, formulating questions about each other’s pictures… and seeking answers to those questions.Screen Shot 2014-06-08 at 10.28.35 AM


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Generalizations in the Shower

During a quick shampoo, my 8-year-old son starts sharing a “pattern” that had *just* occurred to him.  He starts explaining a beautiful mathematical truth and I beg him to repeat it once he rinses off.

Here is his explanation of his pattern, expressed one way asScreen Shot 2014-06-03 at 8.08.57 PM


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After I finished recording the video, he asked for a calculator, and promptly tested his pattern with bigger numbers.  Upon pressing ENTER he said, “YES!” with a fist pump.  “You see?  It works!  It’s minus 1, see?  I knew I was right.”  It was also quite fun to watch him ponder place value for his second calculator example.  He typed several numbers, erasing them before hitting ENTER because he knew they weren’t correct.  He confidently pressed ENTER once he realized that 99,999 is between 99,998 and 100,000 (he carefully counted those zeros!)

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I talked him through the algebraic notation shown above, and his matter-of-fact response was, “Hmm.  Yeah, I get that.”

I kind of believe him. :-)






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Posted in Algebra 1, Pre-Algebra | Tagged , | 2 Comments