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.

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.

Take A Picture, It Will Last Longer And Be More Effective For Your Math Lesson

Real-life examples in math are super important, but it takes time to think of examples and to prepare a lesson using your examples. A quick way to make a lesson interesting and tied to a real-life situation is to take a picture then pose a question. This gets students to analyze details of a situation.

In the next few weeks, I will be talking to my Algebra students about arithmetic sequences and direct variation. I have a great blog post titled, “Examples of Real-Life Arithmetic Sequences.” Check it out if you’d like. I love all the pictures in that post, but I thought I’d take a new picture that I could pose a question to see what the students would say. Below is the question and picture. Feel free to use it yourself if you like it. 

(Yep, that’s my dishwasher in the background😂)

I’d give students a little time to think and jot their thoughts down. Next, I’d ask for feedback. Finally, my plan is to let them create a table using height of cups vs. number of cups for each situation. We will create equations and graphs and talk about the similarities and differences. Students will pay more attention to the details and take part in this activity. All the students will need is some grid paper and the picture which I will post on the board and in Canvas for them.

As a side note, I took this picture with my iPhone, then I used a free app called Layout from Instagram to create the collage. I used another free app called Typorama to add the question. Very simple and easy once you’ve done it a couple of times. I save all my photos in Google Photos which is easy to get to via phone or computer. 

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!