Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Algebra 1 Inquiry Activity - Factoring Trinomials

This is my first attempt at an inquiry lesson in Algebra 1 for the concept of factoring trinomials using the method of grouping.  Instead of just giving the students the rules, I want them to have to think about what will work, why it works, and how you know it works.  
[Click here for resources]

I got this idea for the inquiry factoring "lesson" from someone...either on twitter or a blog.  And I can’t for the life of me remember WHO!  So, please, if it was you, let me know so I can give you credit :)

I am always looking for ways to involve inquiry in my math class - that has been a big area of focus in my second year of flipping my classroom.  So, here is the first one I’ve created for Algebra 1!

Usually we just teach factoring as a protocol, a method, something to memorize.   Why not have our students figure it out themselves? (With some guidance, of course...)

I use the grouping method to teach factoring, so here is an activity that sets up the idea of grouping (trinomial → polynomial) but has the students figure out which numbers work and then why.

Please let me know what you think. (This is my first draft and I just started working on it today, so there is room for improvement!)
  •  Is there anything that is unclear? (Especially the questions...)
  •  Is there something that you suggest be tweaked? 
  •  Do you have any activities like this for your classes?  (I teach Algebra 1 and Pre-Cal)

(For better viewing, click here for Google Drive Folder or download for FREE from my TeachersPayTeachers store!)

Year 2 of Flipping...Post #3 - Modifying WSQ chats to meet student needs

This is post #3 in my "Year 2 of Flipping" series I am trying to do to reflect on this past school year.  Modifying WSQ chats is my big area of focus for next year.

Here are the other posts in this series:


Post #3 - WSQ chats

I was not 100% satisfied with my WSQ chats this year.  I'm not sure what was different from last year, but they just didn't seem to work as well.

[side note: if you don't know what a WSQ is, please check out "WSQing" and my "FAQ" pages above]

I know a few things I wasn't happy about:

  1. Not enough variety
    1. This has always been my struggle, so my goal for this summer and next year is to come up with a wider variety of ideas for how to structure the discussion time.  Please contribute your ideas here (see live document at bottom of post to view, but if you click on the link you can edit and share)
  2. Not enough accountability
    1. I tried a variety of things, from having students write on individual whiteboards (still not 100% engagement, went through WAY too many markers on a limited budget, etc) to writing on paper (once Algebra 1 lost the privilege to use the whiteboards because of not having markers because they wasted them doodling or stole them, I had them actually jot notes on paper to prove they participated).  Neither of those I was happy with in terms of holding all students accountable for their participation.
    2. *Please share your thoughts on holding students accountable for their participation in the comments section.
  3. Took too much of class time
    1. I always struggle with this because I want my students demonstrating TWIRLS daily, and this is a great time to have structured Thinking, Writing, Interacting, Reading, Listening, and  Speaking time.  So it's valuable time, but sometimes it goes on wayyyy longer than it should.  Last year I would limit it to 2 minutes in Alg1 and 5 minutes in Math Analysis and that seemed like pulling teeth to get them to talk that long!  This year, I feel like I had to get them to shut up and move on to the practice!  What I wanted to take 5 minutes they would take 15 minutes of class doing.  I don't know why it would take them so much longer and I'm not sure if it's how I explained it or structured it or something...
  4. Students did not see the benefit
    1. This doesn't apply to all students, but a large chunk of my students saw this time in class as a waste of time and they would rather just get on with the practice to "get their work done".  How do I help my students see the benefit of talking about math with their peers??

Want to contribute to the document below?  Click here

Monday, May 6, 2013

Year 2 of Flipping...Post #2 - Organizing Content

This is post #2 in my "Year 2 of Flipping" series I am trying to do to reflect on this past school year.  Yes, the year is already over for me! (don't be too jealous).  Baby Kirch is coming in less than a month!

  • New Things I've Tried (and how they've panned out)
  • Things I need to tweak for next year
  • My summer to-do list... which may be a complete joke of getting done ;), but it's always good to have


Post #2 - Organizing Content

I've learned a lot in the last year about organizing content and making sure it is well-organized so students are able to easily and readily access everything needed for the course.  Last year I was very sporadic and posted things in a variety of places, which made it difficult sometimes for students to find the material and opened the door to a plethora of excuses of why they couldn't watch the lessons.

I have found that the more organized I am as the teacher, the more confident the students feel in using the online resources and the fewer excuses I receive.  Just because live in the "digital age" does not mean all students are technologically proficient and so making class resources easy for them to access is key to a successful flipped classroom experience.  Plus, with my Type-A/love-to-be-organized self, it adds a little bit of sanity to this crazy life!

As a point of emphasis, I do want to say that what I talk about below is not what makes the "flipped classroom" so amazing.  These are just tools and strategies that I have found to be useful in staying organized and providing structure for students, all which help the adjustment to the flipped classroom a tad easier.

Here is what worked for me, as well as my views on the pros, cons, and tweaks I will continue to make for next year.

My two class websites can be found at 
(please feel free to use what I've done and described below to 
aid in the creation and organization of your own content!)

This is quite a long post, so use the colors to go to the sections you are interested in (or just grab a snack and read it all!)

Video Creation

Video Hosting & Organization
WSQ Submissions
Assignment Submissions
Online Access Issues

    • Video Creation
      • What I did last year:
        • When I started making videos, I just used what I had (which is what I suggest to others!).  The document camera my school provided for me was an AverVision 300AF+ which allowed me to record video captured by the camera and save it as an .mp4 on my computer.  
        • I did not do much (if any) editing and these were one-take videos.  That means if I made a mistake or the recording errored, I was basically stuck and had to start all over.  While this didn't happen often, it happened enough to be annoying.  Sometimes I would use iMovie to the editing on parts I needed to piece together, but the importing of files and rendering process took f-o-r-e-v-e-r.
        • In about March or April, I got Camtasia for Mac and holy goodness - amazing!  Once I figured out how to still utilize my document camera and have all the amazing features Camtasia at my fingertips, I was set.  I realized all I had to do was screencapture the video that showed up from my Aver software using "custom region" and the rest just flowed from there.
        • With that being said, my face was not in 85% of the videos I made in year 1.  I started putting my face in the videos the last two units of each course as I could do so with Camtasia and my webcam.
        • I experimented with one Unit (R, Math Analysis) making the videos solely on Educreations but the feedback from my students was that they actually liked being able to see my hand writing and it was easier to follow when they could see the SSS packet I was writing on that they were taking notes on themselves.
      • What I did this year:
        • I started flipping last year in Unit G of Math Analysis and Chapter 6 of Algebra 1.  So, I had to make from scratch Units A-F and Chapters 1-5.  After that, I went through and either fully edited or completely remade the video depending on how I felt about it.  The first videos I made were pretty bad...I can definitely see the difference as the year went on even in simple things such as having an engaging and dynamic voice throughout the lesson.  Another thing that stood out to me was the length of my videos.  I always thought in year 1 my videos weren't that long, but as I went back through them, I had several that were 12-18 minutes lllloooonnnngggg.  Ouch.  
        • The rule of thumb I learned from Jon Bergmann this summer was "1 to 1 1/2 minutes per grade level" meaning for my Algebra 1 classes, it's 9-13.5 minutes max and for Math Analysis, it's 11-16 minutes max.  However, that does not mean one long video - that means total video watching time for that certain lesson broken up into chunks for 4-7 minutes.  And, those are MAX times... the shorter I can make it, the better!
        • For the ones I just edited: 
          • Imported the .mp4 video files into Camtasia
          • Chopped them up into 4-7 minute bits
          • Added callouts, images, etc to engage the students and call their attention to important parts of the lesson
        • For the ones I fully remade:
          • Recorded with my Aver screencaptured through Camtasia with my webcam for Picture-in-Picture (PIP). 
          • Videos were much shorter just to begin with.  I found it easier to record all the videos first and save them as Camtasia project files and then go back and edit all the videos.  Lastly, once done, I would export all the files so they could be uploaded.  When I would try to record-edit-export each file at a time, it just took way too long!  It was nice to knock out all the recording and then I could sit all comfy in my recliner to do the editing and then just do the exporting while I was doing house chores or something else.
          • Added callouts, images, etc to engage the students and call their attention to important parts of the lesson
      • The learning process and how I went about it:
        • Camtasia's tech support (and any TechSmith product in general) is simply amazing.  First, they have tutorials walking you through all the features of the software.  I would suggest actually having a project to work on while going through the tutorials (like they tell you to) so you actually learn it.
        • If you ever have any questions, you can tweet to Camtasia and they are pretty awesome at getting back to you.  The two that I mainly use is Camtasia Mac and Techsmith's Camtasia
        • With all the editing, it does take longer to record.  For a five-minute video, I would say it takes about 8-10 minutes to record (sometimes I would make mistakes and just keep on recording, cropping it out later), 10-15 minutes to edit (think about it - you are basically re-watching the entire video, pausing and adding features throughout), and then the exporting time (that I don't count because I just do it as I'm doing other stuff around the house or at school). 
      • Pros and Cons:
        • Pros (of using Camtasia)
          • Easy to learn, easy to use
          • Ability to create great, engaging videos
          • So many options!
        • Cons
          • Does take longer to record and edit than one-takes
      • Things I want to still tweak and change:
        • As the years go on, I hope my video-making decreases.  I have the whole library made and there are just a few that I have made notes of that need to be re-recorded or edited from this last year.
        • My focus for next year is more on the class activities and discussions, finding inquiry activities for students to engage in before watching the lessons, etc. 

    • Video Hosting & Organization
      • What I did last year:
        • I hosted videos on YouTube & SchoolTube, and then linked to them in my Edmodo library.
        • YouTube is blocked at my school, so it couldn't be my one place to upload even though most students did use it.
        • SchoolTube was simply annoying, to be honest.  Took forever to upload, and then the videos would not show up in your library for 5-15 minutes after uploading...and then sometimes they wouldn't show up at all and you would have to start all over again!
        • The Edmodo library was not user-friendly in organizing the materials and students had look at each of the titles to find the ones they needed for that night.  In addition, because students had to log in to Edmodo to watch the videos, I found that to be one more layer of excuses (mainly for my freshmen students) of not being able to watch the videos because they forgot their logins.
      • What I did this year:
        • In the middle of last year, I learned about and began to upload my videos into tutorials there (and then organized the tutorials into playlists, like this sample from Unit A).  I really liked that the videos were hosted solely on Sophia (so I didn't have to worry about it being blocked at school) and could be played on both computers and mobile devices with no problems.  In addition, the Sophia tutorials allowed me to add more than just videos - I could add text, images, and also embed my Google Form WSQ into the same page so students had a one-stop shop to complete the lesson.
        • I also started my two class blogs for Algebra 1 and Math Analysis using Blogger as the platform.  I trialed this with my Math Analysis students at the end of last year as I was trying to wrap my head around what I wanted for this year.  Over the summer, I decided how I wanted my blogs organized and just went to work.  Once I had the template, I put some eager students (looking for community service hours) to work to create each of the pages, create the tutorial templates, embed the html and google forms, etc.  Big time saver :)
        • In addition to uploading to, I still do upload my videos to YouTube (although they are "unlisted" on my YouTube channel. I would have about 1000 unorganized videos on YouTube so I've decided just to leave a few videos public and utilize the organization of my blog to link people there if they really want to).  I organize the YouTube videos on a MentorMob playlist and embed on the blog directly below the Sophia tutorials.  Some students still prefer to watch on YouTube, so I want to provide this for them.  Also, it gives the students two options to watch videos in case their computer needs updating (I can't tell you how many times a student has told me the video wouldn't work because their computer told them they needed to update a program and they wouldn't go about following the steps to update it...)  or if Sophia is going through updates (like they will every so often at 2-3am and students are still up trying to do their homework).
        • Each page of the class blog is organized in the same way for easy student navigation.

    The top of each page has the "turquoise box" that has links to all the of the handouts, documents, or GoogleForms the students will need for that chapter.  All documents are uploaded to GoogleDrive and linked to on the blog.
    Two places for students to watch videos: the organized Sophia tutorials that include the WSQ embedded, or the YouTube links if for some reason Sophia isn't working.  The titles on Sophia and the YouTube videos are the same for easy navigation.

    After the Sophia playlist and YouTube links MentorMob playlist, I include other resources the students will need for the chapter.  For this example, there were some awesome GeoGebra applets I wanted the students to be able to play around with as well as a "Collaborative Answer Key" I had them all contribute to throughout the chapter.
    Every chapter has this playlist with random stuff I find online that I think is useful.  As I find things online that relate to a certain concept, instead of trying to remember where they are after bookmarking them, I have a MentorMob playlist already created for every chapter as well as the MentorMob Google Chrome extension.  It's as easy as bookmarking it, but it's added to this playlist instead and now accessible to students!  My goal for next year is that students contribute to these playlists more.
      • The learning process and how I went about it:
        • I think Sophia, MentorMob, and Blogger were all pretty intuitive.  As I mentioned above, I utilized students to do the repetitive template creation, copy-pasting, etc.  Otherwise, it can be quite time-consuming.
        • I found it helpful that I already decided on the template I wanted for each page of the blog before beginning so I didn't have to go back and change it all.
      • Pros and Cons:
        • Pros:
          • No login required for students to access resources
          • Easy to navigate and find resources throughout the school year
          • One-stop shop
        • Cons:
          • I don't consider this a huge con, but all my stuff is public.  Which means even though I do expect attribution and appropriate use, I do find people that misuse or rip off my work without attribution...which is pretty annoying.
      • Things I want to still tweak and change:
        • Just need to finish cleaning everything up and making sure all the links are accurate.  I'm pretty happy with it!

    • WSQ Submissions
      • What I did last year:
        • Students handwrote the summary and question part of the WSQ.  It was a great way to start but I found that I never actually read what my students were writing because there simply wasn't enough time in class to do so.
        • Near the end of the year, I experimented with Online WSQs via GoogleForms with my Math Analysis classes only.  We had discussions about the pros and the cons of handwritten vs. online and for this year, I decided the pros outweighed the cons and to go full force.
      • What I did this year:
        • I created a GoogleForm template (full video explanation here) for my WSQ (and again, had students do all the duplicating, changing titles, etc for the whole year - huge time-saver!).  
          • This included up top a spot for their ID, name, class period, etc.  
          • Then there are four spaces for the guided summary questions I have the students complete. I always keep it four spaces even if I don't have four guided summary questions because it helps keep everything organized on my end.  If I don't have four questions, I either put "freebie" or ask the students a random question like "what are your plans for winter break".  Students really appreciate the freebies every once in a while, and it's a great way to get to know your students!
          • I have added two questions for "The part I understood the most" and "The part I'm most confused about".  If I don't have time to read through the whole WSQ before class, I generally read through "The part I'm most confused about" and get some general ideas of what I need to focus on with the groups and what I want them to be discussing during their WSQ chats.
          • The students submit their answers to the secret questions I had them try on their own. I try to provide video or picture solutions to these questions on the WSQ spreadsheet, but I don't always get to it.  I also haven't found a way to make sure students actually click on the spreadsheet when they are done!
        • I make the spreadsheets "viewable to anyone with the link" and put that link in the confirmation students get after submitting. (see video instructions here to make it viewable and here to edit the confirmation link)
        • The GoogleForm is embedded as a part of the Sophia tutorial right after the video lesson. (video instructions here)
        • I learned about the VLookup feature of Google Docs from Delaine Johnson after requesting help on twitter for some way to organize student responses so I didn't have to mark them off individually.  It's a little confusing at first, but once you have it set up once, it's a lot of copy-pasting and changing just small pieces of it.  It is such a huge time-saver and I use it for everything now!
        • I organize all student submissions on a master tracking spreadsheet that imports all of the tracking from each WSQ document into one place using the ImportRange feature.  This is also a huge timesaver and helps me to stay organized.  I give students access to these spreadsheets so they can check and make sure their WSQs have been submitted.
      • The learning process and how I went about it:
        • Decide what you want. Create a template.  Put students to work helping you with duplication and embedding :)
      • Pros and Cons:
        • Pros:
          • Easy to monitor, easy to keep track of
          • Great to see before class what students are struggling with so you can tailor class activities towards their needs
          • Easy way to see what time of night students are completing math work
        • Cons:
          • Students can still find ways to cheat.  I will have students submit blank forms just so they can read what I or another student has written before submitting theirs.  No matter how many times I talk about how they aren't graded on the correctness per say, but more on the completeness of their thoughts and quality of their efforts, some students still don't get it.
          • It is all online so it does require internet access.  For the students that don't have access, I do allow handwritten but I end up not usually looking over theirs anyways due to time.  This is only a few kids in every class, but because it's different than everyone else, I forget.
      • Things I want to still tweak and change:
        • For the "part I understood the most" and "part I'm most confused about", I still often get the answers of "everything" and "nothing" even though it clearly says in the directions to avoid saying that.  
          • Instead of "everything", I wish they would think about what was the EASIEST or CLEAREST part so I know.  I need to teach and model this better next year.  
          • For the "part I'm most confused about" I think I am going to have that be the place where students put their HOT questions.  So, if they actually are confused about something, they can phrase it in the form of a question and then I can clearly see it.  When I see a question repeated multiple times, I know that is a great question to have them discuss in their WSQ chats.  If they didn't have a question of their own, they still have to ask one (instead of saying "nothing") but they would also include the answer.  This could be a verbal question or a math problem they wrote on their own and solved.  That holds everyone accountable to the same level of expectations, and "nothing" is no longer acceptable.
        • I want students to understand more that even though they have access to the spreadsheet, they are only hurting themselves by looking at others' answers before submitting their own.  I also want them to understand the benefit in making sure to click on the confirmation link to read others' answers after submitting to clarify any misconceptions or to simply get a different perspective.

    • Assignment Submissions
      • What I did last year:
        • Most everything was submitted on paper. Lots of paper. Lots to lug around. Lots to grade. Ugh.
      • What I did this year:
        • As much as possible, students submitted everything electronically, usually to a GoogleForm utilizing tools such as GoogleDocs, MentorMob playlists, YouTube links, and Blogspot links
      • The learning process and how I went about it:
        • Teaching students how to effectively use online curation and creation tools is not easy...they are not all as tech-savvy as we think!  I had them start the year by creating their own Blogspots and doing most assignments except tests and quizzes on there.  (See Post #1 for details on all this!)
        • Basic process: 
          • Students submitted link to assignment on specific Google Form
          • I used VLookup feature to know who has turned it in
          • I used FormEmailer script (thank you Ramsey!) to give students feedback
          • Students received an email from me with specific feedback and/or score on the assignment and could reply directly to that email to follow-up with anything.
      • Pros and Cons:
        • Pros:
          • Going paperless!
          • Easy to grade on the go; I could sit and grade 3-4 submissions here or there on my laptop and didn't have a huge stack of papers
          • No issues with "you lost mine".
        • Cons:
          • Teaching students to submit correctly.  Yes, a "link" is the thing that starts off with www...  An embed code is different from a URL...
          • Students don't check email very often, if at all...
          • Student assignments are public which means they can copy off each other...and yes I did catch that this year :(
      • Things I want to still tweak and change:
        • I started the GoogleForm/FormEmailer in the middle of the year, so definitely starting from day 1 will help alleviate a little bit of the confusion.
        • Find a way to make it important for students to check their email to find out status on assignments.

    • Online Access Issues
      • DVDs & Flash Drives
        • I used iDVD to burn DVDs for the few students that needed them.  Took time to burn, but I would try to just stick them in and go do something else.
        • I had 3 "loaner" flash drives available for checkout.  I think I started the year with 5, and unfortunately some got stolen... :(  Need to do a better job of locking them up next year.
      • Random Internet Cut-outs (use textbook!)
        • Many students with "consistent" internet still would have days when their internet would go out or the electricity would cut out.  These students use that as an excuse to not do anything to prepare for class.  Next year, I want to emphasize that the video lessons are a resource to them to come to class with their SSS notes done and the WSQ completed.  If they don't have access to the videos that night, then they need to find other resourecs - namely, their textbook.  They can always watch the video in class but there is no excuse to come to class without anything from the previous night done.
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