Making Mistakes in Math

Say this to yourself: “I make math mistakes and it’s ok!” Most of the mistakes we make as teachers are probably because of being careless. Our minds are processing 20 different things while we are teaching. We are wondering if the students are understanding or if Susie is on her phone or if Johnny is ever going to come back from the restroom. 

Make it known from the beginning of the year that you WILL make mistakes and you need the students to catch those mistakes. If they catch the mistake, then give them bonus points or a sticker or some reward to let them know it’s important that they notice your mistakes. Also tell your students that you do not know everything about math. That might shock them. You need to show vulnerability so that the students feel comfortable about their own mistakes. When you make a mistake and a student points it out, say THANK YOU!

Something that I have said many times this year is that I want the students to be wrong… a lot. I want them to mess up. I want them to make mistakes. I want them to leave the class and say, “Well I made a lot of mistakes today in math.” Weird, I know…but if they can say that, then they worked hard in class. Mistakes are a part of learning. Mistakes mean effort. No mistakes will probably mean no work. 

Have you asked a student a question and they say, “I don’t know?” Tell them they can’t say that anymore. Do not let them write IDK for an answer on a paper. That’s a big no no. I tell the kids to “Fake it until you make it.” Act like you know. Put something down or give some sort of answer. Who cares if you are wrong! 

Next week when you are teaching, look at your students and see who is just sitting. Walk the room. Who has a blank paper. Don’t let this happen. Get the students involved and teach them to be ok with math mistakes. Mistakes are necessary! 

(Here is a gift to you. A digital display poster of Mistakes are Necessary. This is from my Google Drive… if you cannot open it, try from your personal email and not your school email.)

This post was a newsletter first. This is the kind of content that I like to write for my email subscribers. If you’d like to be a part of my email list, sign up here. My goal is to provide tips, ideas and resources for the busy secondary math teacher or tutor. If that’s you, please join.

Teaching Regular Math Students – The Good, Bad and Ugly

Teaching math has given me so much joy and so much stress over my career. Out of my 35 years of experience, I would say 75% of the time I was teaching regular students. When I use the word “regular”, I’m referring to students not in a Pre-AP, accelerated or honors math class. I’m not going to lie… it has not been easy. If I had to describe to a new teacher my experience over the years, I think I would describe it as GOOD, BAD and UGLY!

Side Note: I’m a Clint Eastwood fan. I have a picture of him on my wall in my living room so I’d say I’m a pretty big fan. One of his most popular westerns, was The Good, The Bad And The Ugly. You can’t think about that film without hearing the music that plays constantly throughout it. If you’ve never watched the movie or heard the music, you should do it. Here’s the music. Play it softly while you are reading. You’ll enjoy it.

The Good: Of course the good part about teaching regular students are the students! The kids are mostly awesome. You get a turd (pardon me) in there every once in a while, but for the most part, the kids are awesome. If you will take the time to make connections and get to know them, you will find out how wonderful they can be.

How do you make connections? First of all, don’t be their best friend. You are the adult. It’s ok to listen to them tell you about their bad day, but it’s not ok to take them to Sonic and have a drink. Don’t be THAT teacher! Make connections by finding out about their hobbies. Ask questions about their past math experiences. Ask them how they learn best. Go watch their school football or volleyball games. It’s great for the students to see that you care about them, but be super smart about your actions.

Students that act out in class are not bad kids. If they talk too much, or sleep during class, there is a reason. Try to get to the bottom of the issue. You can remedy problems very quickly if you can get to the root cause. Ask them questions like:

  • “I notice that you sleep during class, do you have a job that keeps you up late?”
  • “How have you done in past math classes?”
  • “Do you get along with everyone in this class?”

The kids themselves are not the issue in regular classes. There is much more to this! Keep reading!

The Bad: One bad thing about teaching these classes will be the size of your class. The majority of students are in regular classes, so it makes sense that these classes will be bigger. That’s bad because how do you help these students individually? It’s tough, but one solution is to let them help each other as much as possible. I like to do lots of partner work and group work which can be good and bad. You have to train the students how to act. Give them specific directions on duties and protocols. Be consistent and it will get better. If you keep them in rows and stand and talk at the front of the room all day, they will not learn a thing. Trust me on this one. I’ve been THAT teacher.

One of my favorite things to do in groups is group tests/quizzes. The strategy is to get everyone engaged and learning from each other. To learn more about my group quiz strategy, go here.

Organization can be a booger too! Here are a few things to make your classes run smoothly:

  • DON’T grade everything.
  • Keep a seating chart at all times. This saves so many headaches! Students see you have an expectation of where they will sit. This shows them that you are organized.
  • Make use of a hall pass and keep a tardy log.
  • DO use every ounce of time in class to work. Free time is not good with this type of student…which leads me to the next paragraph…

Many of these types of students do not know how to self start, so you will need to guide them in this. Motivation levels in regular students are not always the best either. How do you teach them to be motivated and be a self starter? First of all, have procedures. Students need to know exactly what you expect when they walk in the door. Phones are put away and the spiral notebooks come out! Figure out what is best for your classroom. The motivation comes over time if students are not bored, see value in what they are learning and gain some confidence.

The Ugly: The ugliest part about teaching regular math students is the wide variety of abilities. This presents a huge challenge. Is differentiation the answer? You can differentiate all day long but when you have 170 students, 11 of them are SPED, several students are dyslexic, and 59 are ESL, then it gets ugly. How can I differentiate? Differentiation does not have to be create a brand new lesson that is specialized for each person. Here are some ideas to differentiate in a math class:

  • Reducing the number of problems by looking at a worksheet and deciding which ones are tougher and taking those off. Another way of reducing work and letting the student feel like they are playing a role is to tell them to do any 5 out of 10 problems.
  • Choose between a digital or paper and pencil.
  • Choose between preferred learning style…worksheet vs. kinesthetic.
  • Create their own problems and work them.
  • Record their explanation instead of writing it.
  • Let them redo the work many times until they understand. Don’t recreate the wheel… Boom Learning is perfect for this as well as Easel activities from TpT. (These links send you to my stores on both sites. The Easel activities can be created using any PDF. If you see something you would like for me to change into an Easel activity for you, just email me: lisa.hamiter@timefliesedu.com )
  • Working with a partner or a group.

I don’t want to sugar coat what it’s like to be a teacher of regular math students. It’s hard, but there are ways to make it work and make it better. I hope that I’ve given you some ideas to use to help make your teacher life more doable. Be positive and treat yourself with grace. This is a tough job, but it can be rewarding. If you have any questions, please email me. Have a great year!

Small Group Quizzes in Math

I love small group quizzes for so many reasons! Its a win win situation. I cannot say enough about this type of strategy. I’ve done group quizzes for many years, but with the help of my peers, I’ve figured out the way that works best for me. I’ve also discovered that it will evolve the more you do it. You’ll get an idea to try something new or you’ll stop doing something else that’s not working the way you want.

What are group quizzes? Group quizzes are collaborative quizzes that give students a chance to deepen their learning through discussions. Imagine awesome engagement and conversations. Imagine all levels of abilities working together and activating growth. THAT’s what happens during a well constructed small group quiz.

I have 2 ways of doing these quizzes:

  1. Students are put into groups of 4. Each student will receive their own version of the quiz. Yes, this means you need at least 4 versions of the same quiz. Students work together through discussions to complete their own quiz. THE DISCUSSIONS ARE AMAZING! I do not allow students to grab each other’s papers and copy straight from them. That is a big no no…(so you do have to walk around a bit, but I can still get so much done while the kids are working together it’s not even funny.)
  2. Students are put into groups of  3, 4 or 5. All students in the group have the same quiz. Assign each student a letter or a number. They write that letter or number beside their name in INK!  The students work together to complete the quiz. (Again, they cannot grab someone’s paper and copy it.) At the end of the allotted time, the teacher will spin a spinner, roll some dice or use some sort of number or letter picker to decide whose paper will be the one graded for the group. The person that is selected will put their paper on top of the group pile with everyone else’s paper below. The quizzes are paperclipped and turned in. I usually grade the top paper only, but I’ll flip through the pile to make sure everyone was successful. I tell the students ahead of time what will happen at the end of the time. Throughout the quiz I give reminders to not allow anyone to sit and do nothing since their paper might be the one graded for the group. A little peer pressure is ok. I don’t allow anyone to be mean, but I’ve never found that to be the case. If I see that someone actually could hurt the group, then I’ll do something creative so that person doesn’t cause any issues.

If you’ve never tried a group quiz or think that your students are too rowdy for this, then think again. Try it! You will need to put some thought into your groups ahead of time. I like to make sure that I have some high abilities with some strugglers. I try to put some quiet people with the loud people. I never let them pick their own groups. I do not ever put all strugglers together or all high abilities together. I usually go by grades in the gradebook and then I think about who gets along. I use my name plates (we make these at the beginning of the year and it is mentioned in the post: 1st Week of Math Class Ideas) to put people in their groups. I will not let kids enter the room until I’ve place the names plates on the desks.

Hopefully, I have you motivated to try this strategy. If you need some quizzes to use, I have started creating some. I will be making more throughout the year, so please check often. Each set has 4 versions of the same quiz, so you can use either of my two strategies that I mention above. If you will follow me on Teachers Pay Teachers, you will know when I upload new resources. They are always 50% off for 24 hours.

Disclaimer: This site contains affiliate links in which I will get a commission if you decide to buy something using the link I provided.

Give Your Students Hope on a Math Test

Semester finals are coming! Of course you will review and try to prepare your students, but time is limited. How can you help your students do better and still keep your standards high?

USE   AN   ANSWER   BANK.

If you have a 20 question test and you have 20 answers in an answer bank, your test is still challenging but you are giving your students hope which means they will put more effort into trying! That’s what we want, right? EFFORT! 

Will some students guess by using the answer bank? Absolutely! When I give an answer bank, I have two rules:

  • Students have to keep the test for a certain amount of time before turning it in.
  • Students have to show work on all of the problems. 

Try it this year. I think that you will be pleasantly surprised. If students feel like they have an advantage, it makes a big difference in their attitude. Please let me know how this goes for you.

I have two final assessments with answer banks if you would like to try them. (My Algebra 1 Final with an Answer Bank is in the works. Be on the lookout for it soon!)

Finals with answers banks are below: