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:

7 Reasons to use Bell Ringers in High School Math Classes

I’ve used bell ringers (sometimes called Do Nows or Warm-ups) my entire teaching career until the pandemic. For over a year, I quit using them. I was juggling too much to add bell ringers to the mix, but I’m happy to say that I’m using them again. I debated over whether to start using them because I do have a few cons that bother me.

One of my cons for using bell ringers is that it requires a transition from one task to another and sometimes transitions in a classroom are hard to deal with. Another con is that you have to think of what you want your bell ringer to be and that requires time which we as teachers have very little time.

The pros far outweigh the cons when it comes to bell ringers. I have 7 reasons why I feel like bell ringers are worth the struggle. It makes sense to me to continue using them because of what bell ringers provide.

  • #1 – Get the students busy from the start! As a teacher, the beginning of class is a chaotic time. We need to get the students settled and do attendance. If students are in a routine to come into the class and get started on the bell ringer, then the chaos is limited and the teacher has time to get organized.
  • #2 – Use bell ringers to recycle information or to review information. Maybe you want to review the first grading period during the second grading period using bell ringers. I’ve learned that 3 or 4 problems is the limit. A quick way to create something is to use material that you were not able to use during the first grading period. You might have run out of time to do a worksheet or maybe you did not get to go as deep as you wanted. Divide that worksheet into days and give it to your students at the beginning of the week. Students get the worksheet out at the start of class each day and work on it. (I have my students tape everything into their journal so they do not lose it.)
  • #3 – Use bell ringers as a quick check to find out what students know. For instance, before a lesson on the properties of exponents, you decide to see if students remember how to use integer operations or if they remember that 5^3 really means 5*5*5. Before any lesson, think about what might cause some issues. Do not assume that students remember their math from past grades. Give them some problems and see what they remember. This will guide you to take a moment to reteach some concepts before you get started.
  • #4 – Bell ringers can simply be a way to get your students thinking or “get the wheels turning” as they say. Some teachers call bell ringers warm ups. That’s a good name! Before you run, don’t you warm up. You want to get the blood flowing and the muscles stretched. The brain is no different. It’s great to have students focused and thinking before you begin a lesson.
  • #5 – This reason is related to #4 above… Use bell ringers as a lesson opener. To get the “wheels turning” use a problem to spark interest in the topic you are about to teach. Real-life problems are a great thing to use. It really doesn’t have to be anything but a picture or a simple question. For instance, before a quadratic lesson you could have a picture of a football player throwing a pass. You could ask students to predict if the throw is accurate or how many yards the ball will travel. The great thing about this kind of question is that anyone can answer it. All kids are on an equal playing field. All students can be successful on these types of questions.
  • #6 – Here’s a biggie… Use bell ringers to fill in gaps. Welp, we all know how important that is at this time. Think about the students you teach. What’s missing in their learning. What did they NOT learn the past few years that you can practice through bell ringers? You could literally pull material from the previous grade level and reteach it. If your state has standardized testing, go pull from old tests. You could even go back a couple of grade levels. Think of the good this would do!
  • #7 – Use bell ringers to prepare students for standardized tests. Not all math teachers think about preparing students for college entrance exams or college placement exams. Your students will be taking tests such as the ACT, SAT, PSAT, TSI or ACCUPLACER. Why not give them a taste of what they will see on these tests? Students are not familiar with the questioning used on these types of tests. What a great service you would be doing for your students if you helped prepare them for what they might see on college entrance exams.

I hope I’ve given you some ideas. To me, bell ringers are another learning opportunity. To provide the best thing for your students, you need to think about your particular groups. My Algebra students need something different than my Geometry students most of the time. The only time that I may give them the same bell ringers is if I’m in the mode of preparing them for the TSI or PSAT.

My biggest concern for my Geometry students is how much Algebra they lost last year. I created an Algebra bell ringer resource just for them. When I’m doing these bell ringers with them, I’ll ask them to raise their hand if they remember certain things. It’s terribly disappointing how little they learned last year. I’ll link this resource below if you are interested, but here is a freebie related to those bell ringers. Each day there are four problems. I work two with them and then they do two on their own.

Your next question might be, should you grade bell ringers? I usually grade on completion. I have students keep the bell ringers in their journals, so sometimes during a journal check, I might refer back to certain bell ringers and ask them questions about them.

I’ve attached some of my bell ringers below that are in my TpT store. Half the battle is having time to create them. Remember, bell ringers do not have to be something you create. It can be an old worksheet that you didn’t get to or it can be review material that you have. I’ve used my TSI material a lot as bell ringers. I’ll pull a page out of a lesson and it will become my bell ringers for the week. The great thing about TSI or ACCUPLACER material is that it covers a variety of content that students should know from past math classes.

Here’s what I’m currently using with my Geometry Classes:

These next two resources are for college entrance exams:

I use any of my TSI resources to pull from for various reasons. I recently pulled from this activity for my Algebra class bell ringers to help recycle previous concepts:

I have all of my bell ringers including in one bundle so you can save:

If you like my ideas and tips, then consider joining my email list. If you chose to do that, then you will receive a free exponential function hands-on activity. Join Now!

Good luck with your bell ringers. If you are not on board, I understand. I have my reservations at times too. You need to do what is best for your situation.

Please follow me at my TpT Store so that you know when I upload new resources. All my new resources are 50% off for 24 hours.

Help Struggling Students Factor Quadratics

It’s the truth! Factoring is a major topic and somehow, we have to make sure students can do it. Factoring is needed for all math classes after Algebra and for all college entrance exams (SAT, PSAT and ACT) and placement exams (ACCUPLACER and TSI). Algebra teachers have enough on their plate without this pressure, but it’s our job to teach it and hopefully it will be reinforced in future math classes.

About ten years ago, one of my coworkers showed me a cool calculator method that I use with struggling students. Some students have a hard time with their multiplication facts which will make factoring a nightmare for them.

I hate most calculator tricks, but this one is actually a great tool. Let’s say a student needs to know all the factors of 135. Have them go to the graph of the calculator and type 135/x (135 divided by x). Next have the student look at the table. In the table, they will look for whole number values. For instance, across from an x of 1, is a y of 135. That of course means that 1 and 135 are factors of 135. The next set of whole number values are x = 3 and y = 45. When the list of numbers starts repeating, all of the factors have been found.

Look at the sample factoring problem below this paragraph. I have my students multiply the 9x^2 and the -15. The answer is -135x^2. To the right of the problem, they draw a large X . On the top, they write the -135x^2 and on the bottom of the X, they write the middle term: 22x. Next, they start making a list of all of the factors of 135. I tell them not to think about the negative at first…just make a list of factors. If they are not able to do that, then use the calculator to make the list. Once the list is made, then the students decide which factors will multiply to get -135 and subtract to get 22. The answer would be 27 and -5. Those two numbers are written on the left and right side of the X. Next, the original trinomial is turned into a polynomial with four terms. The second step below was 9x^2 + 27x – 5x – 15, before I started the grouping process. The problem is grouped and the factors are found. (Yes, I teach grouping. It helps with this type of problem and it helps with factoring out a GCF. Don’t skip grouping. If you’d like to see more about how I teach factoring go to this Factoring Blogpost.)

Here’s a quick video explaining the same problem:

All students can factor! Believe it, teach it and recycle it!

Get Your Math Students Engaged!

How is it going in your classroom? If it seems that your students are not paying attention and just not getting the concepts you are delivering, could it be that you are not engaging them? When school really gets going and you are super busy, it seems like we go into survival mode. The way we survive is lecturing because we really don’t have time to plan and be creative. I’m going to give you some ideas that turn a dull boring lesson into an engaging lesson without much prep.

Here are 5 Easy Ideas:

1) Get the dry erase boards out and dust them off! Kids love to draw on the boards, so give them equations to solve, equations to graph or shapes to draw. Maybe you had a worksheet planned. Don’t do it the traditional way, instead call out the problems and let them work them on the board then raise the board up to show you. You can make corrections and help kids that are struggling. You can have students show their partner and talk about which person may or may not be correct. Dry erase boards are a savior for me. I get them out anytime I feel like I have a boring lesson and it really spruces it up. 
2) Find a related Desmos lesson. Desmos is easy to use and can be something quick to search and find quick lessons or activities for your students. If you are teaching exponential functions soon, I have a good activity from Desmos that I created. I would say to do this with Algebra 2 rather than Algebra 1. It’s called “The Towers“. I love the Tower of Hanoi and I use it in my Exponential Functions Stations
3) Another quick way to gain interest in note taking is make the notes colorful or turn it into a graphic organizer. If you have 4 things the students need to know, then create a paper folding graphic where students write on the outside 4 flaps and they open to reveal answers, definitions or a diagram. 
Here’s two examples of using colored pencils or using a foldable:

4) Let the students partner up and go to a spot on the board or use poster paper. Ask them to write everything they know about a topic. I recently did this and the students did not realize how much they actually knew. I kept adding stuff and reminding them of a few things along the way. Before they knew it, they had a ton of concepts on the board. 
5) Turn the lecture into a game. One way is to make it a Bingo Game. Create a list of things you know you will be saying that day and put it on the board. The students will be given a blank bingo card and can write the words randomly into the boxes. As they hear you say the phrase or word, they cross off that box. If they bingo, you will take off a couple of problems on the homework to shorten the assignment. 

If you look up from a lecture and you have kids falling asleep or looking at their phones, you know you’ve got to do something to change the dynamics of the class. Try implementing one or two of these ideas in the next few weeks and let me know how it goes!