Monthly Archives: November 2017

Test Anxiety and what I do with it

A lot of people have test anxiety and it is completely understandable: you only have a certain amount of time to spill everything you know about a subject and whatever is on that piece of paper determines a big chunk of your grade. I can remember tests that I have taken where I would remember how to do a problem just a couple minutes after walking out of the classroom, which is a horrible feeling. I’m sorry that it took me 53 minutes to figure out the problems, not 50.

Because I teach future elementary school teachers who for the most part, believe that math is their weakest subject, they need to be carefully taught. I want to show them that they can be good at math, and to do that, we have to break down one of those barriers, which is test anxiety. With the help of Diana Herrington, we decided to do three things: either make assessments take-home projects or give students the first 5-7 minutes to talk about the test (with the tests in their hands) without pencils, and always let students buy back points after the tests.

Take-home assessments

Both parties like the idea of take-home tests. I give them 3-5 days to complete a project so they don’t have to feel anxious. With take-home tests, I can ask a little more from them since they have more time to think about it. Additionally, I can use this as an opportunity to extend what they know. Take-home assessments drive the point of “Here’s some information, what can you do with it?” I think it makes the assessments more meaningful. Why don’t we find the area/volume of actual objects rather than bubble in 25 multiple choice questions?

What I like most about take-home assessments is that it takes away the idea that memorization is key to being good at math. Even I used to think that during my bachelor’s. In high school, I was pretty peeved because my friend is GREAT at memorizing, and she would score the same if not better than me on tests. It irritated me because I felt like I understood the concepts better but she would just memorize formulas, which made me think: Does this test accurately assess what we actually know?

Giving 5-7 minutes to talk about the test

If I had to give a multiple choice/short answer test, I would pass out the tests and the students would discuss with their groups how to do the problems. Generally, I give students options (6 questions, choose 5 to answer). Even with multiple choice, there is still a justification portion. I have shared this with some other instructors but they seem hesitant because they see it as the “struggling” students getting help from the “smart” students. Here is my response to that:

Math should be conversational. In what job are you not allowed to ask others for help, or at least a little push? Even if they overhear all of the correct answers, they still need to justify and use precise vocabulary. Honestly, there have been some days where I would overhear their conversations during these 5-7 minutes and I would go to bed with a ridiculously huge smile on my face because these students who claimed to be bad at math are using deductive reasoning, precise mathematical language, and are HELPING each other (which by the way, the world needs more of). In my 5 semesters of doing this, I have never heard a complaint about this from students and more importantly, they explicitly say that it lowers their test anxiety.

In addition to these two ways to lower test anxiety, I also let my students know that they can buy back points after the test is done. This let’s them know that I value their learning even if it means that it took them a month to understand the concept. For revisions, they must reflect saying “I got this incorrect because…” and “I now know…”. Reflection is huge for me, because when they think about their mistakes, the less likely they are going to make that mistake again. Students explicitly appreciate this so much. As a teacher, I’m basically grading everything twice, but I honestly think it’s worth it to instill a growth mindset in these future teachers.

Overall, it is important to somehow reduce test anxiety because students are not performing at their highest if they are anxious. Are we accurately assessing what they know, or are we assessing how they perform in pressure situations?

11/28/17 Functions, Volume, and Optimization

I felt pretty good with the lessons that I did the past two days, so I thought I’d share what I’m doing in my classes. Because a lot of my students (who are future teachers) believe that math is one of their weaker subjects, I try my best to include fun, yet rich mathematical tasks so my students see that math is not scary, but rather, attainable and enjoyable.

Math 10A: What’s my Rule?

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In Math 10A, we are learning about functions, so I decided to have each group think of a rule, and other students would do a gallery walk and can only give 4 inputs, in which the docent would give the 4 outputs. Then, the students have to guess their rule. There was a lot of laughter shared. Surprisingly (or not so surprisingly), just getting students out of their chairs makes activities much more exciting.

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Math 10B: Finding volume

Power Solids are amazing. I had students make a conjecture of how many square pyramids fit into a square prism of the same base and height. A lot guessed 2 or 4, but hardly anyone said 3. After pouring rice from one solid to another, they found that 3 square pyramids fit into a square prism. We did the same for cones and cylinders, and triangular pyramids and triangular prisms with the same base and height, then we generalized to obtain the volume formulas. Discovering formulas is one of my favorite activities to do. I often see epiphanies and if you’re a teacher, you know that that is one of the best feelings ever.

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Math 100: Optimization

Alright, now this one is just fun. We did this in the 5 E’s style where I pretended that I was their boss at Coca-Cola and they are my interns. I want them to tell me which way to pack 12 cans of soda is more efficient in terms of space. This involved knowing the area of a rectangle, a circle, Pythagorean Theorem, and percentages. After we determined which model was the best, I then extended the problem to 20 cans and asked if the result would be the same.

One of my students commented that she loved this because it brings in a lot of prior knowledge. She said she never saw a clever way of using the Pythagorean Theorem but now she has.

I also love this because I can finally talk about limits. What if we had 1,000,000 cans? Does the space occupied by the cans tend to 100% if we keep increasing the amount of cans?

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Bonus:

Lastly, in office hours, I had a couple students talk to me about either Ditch that Homework by Alice Keeler and Matt Miller or Mathematical Mindsets by Jo Boaler. I LOVE students who take education seriously and are preparing themselves NOW. What surprises me about a lot of students is that they just take classes for the units, but it’s those students who really say “What can I take from this into my future classroom?” that makes teaching effortless.

 

11/27/17: Who run the world? GIRLS.

My four biggest influences in education are women: Diana Herrington, Alice Keeler, Jo Boaler, and Jenna Tague. They have shaped me into the educator that I am today and I cannot be grateful enough for everything that they have shared. This blog post will share what these female educators mean to me and the need to empower women in mathematics.

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Diana Herrington and I worked together for two years developing curricula for Liberal Studies majors at Fresno State. She showed me that math is everywhere and that math is not DRY. She loved using technology in the classroom which was eye-opening at the time. Diana was one of the most innovative teachers I knew. Constantly using manipulatives, technology, items from Trash for Teachers, her selflessness knew no bounds. Without her, I would not have felt as comfortable teaching differently. She really solidified the idea that it’s important to go deep into a solution. Only do 3-5 problems.

Diana knew how to make people feel good. I remember I asked her how I did one day, and she said “You did better than me!” and that just took me aback. I thought to myself, “oh my gosh, THE Diana Herrington said that.” What constantly amazed me was that she took my suggestions as well. We were a TEAM. Even with her years of teaching experience, she was still open to suggestions, which I found inspiring.

Diana opened my eyes to new methods left and right; she was so great at that. I still use a lot of lessons that we’ve planned together and I will share those in a later blog. I think about her every time I teach Math 10A and Math 10B and I am so grateful I was partnered up with her.

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I met Alice Keeler in CI 101 Spring 2013. I was one of those students who didn’t think technology was necessary in the classroom (HA!). I was even writing my notes in a notebook even though it was in a computer lab. Alice opened a new world to me, a world where we need to use technology when it enhances the lesson but way more important than that, we use technology to enhance the relationships we have with our students. She is one of the teachers that truly cared about what you’re going to do with this information and she was so selfless about it. She shared everything she could. Not only that, I love that she does not settle. Teachers could so easily just repeat the same lessons and lessons over and over semester after semester but from what I’ve seen, she always adjusts to make her course even better, which is just awesome.

Alice is one of the few instructors that I have kept in touch with, and I am still learning from her. Just looking at all her blog posts on her website alicekeeler.com makes me want to be a better teacher. It made me realize that the best teachers share. Her ability to create is just amazing as well. Can’t find a way to make things easier? She creates programs to make it work. How cool is that?

Her teachings have been seen in my classroom quite often. I have told all of my students something she said to our class 4 years ago: You learn 1,000 times more from your mistakes than successes, and that has constantly been a theme in my classroom. Her mantra of relationships and feedback being the two most important things a teacher can give is constantly on my mind.

I can go on and on about how Alice changed my view of what a teacher should be but there are two more women that majorly inspired me.

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Diana gave me Jo Boaler’s book Mathematical Mindsets a couple years ago and I was just in awe. That book changed me. Personally, I LOVED speed, but I realized that math is not a competition. I used to teach cute little math tricks, but then realized that it’s all procedural; the students aren’t really understanding where it comes from. Math is not about getting answers quickly, math is about finding relationships. This book showed me that understanding that mistakes are important to learning. Because of this, Diana and I let students revise EVERYTHING. Students appreciated it so much and I think that because we teach future teachers, this idea is SO important. Because of Jo, I realized how important reflections are. Reflecting will make us not just better students or teachers, but better people.

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Lastly is Jenna Tague. She is a Professor at Fresno State and we collaborate often. What I love about her is that she is so knowledgeable when it comes to research. She showed me that it is important to look at research to verify teaching practices. She is one of the most patient people I know and one that I look up to when it comes to equity in the classroom. She made it mandatory for students to come to office hours in the first couple weeks to show that she is accessible and approachable. I took note of this myself this semester and I can tell you that my relationships with students this semester is much stronger because of it. Students are more willing to approach me when they need help and I honestly think it’s because of the relationships built in the mandatory office hours.

 

My teaching style is strongly influenced by these four women. This is why it is extremely important to empower women in mathematics. I don’t know the answer of exactly how to do that, but it starts with an equitable classroom and a growth mindset. Show every student that they are capable of achieving math at a higher level. Show students that math is not just about memorization, but rather, creativity. Show that math is applicable to their lives and help them. Show them women mathematicians. All we see are male mathematicians. Show them how Sonia Kovalevsky broke barriers by being the first woman to earn a PhD in Math. Show them that women can do it too.

 

11/26/17: Why am I a Teacher?

Welcome to my first blog post! Because this is a teacher blog, I might as well state why I wanted to teach. What’s my purpose?

In short, I decided to become a math teacher early in my college career because after seeing that the United States struggles as a nation in their mathematical abilities, I thought that this is the occupation where I would impact society the most.

Growing up, I really liked math. I’ve had the same math teacher all 4 years of high school (Mr. Trejo) and he just made math fun. Though my love of math stayed strong all my life, my thoughts for math drastically changed throughout the years. In K-12, math was a competition. I wanted to be the fastest and I wanted to have the highest scores. In college, math turned pretty dry, where I told myself that to be good in math, you just need to know three things: formulas, theorems, and definitions. That’s it. Just memorize those and you’re good. NOW, after a couple years of teaching and with the help of Diana Herrington, my co-teacher of 2 years, I realize that math is creative, math is exploratory, math is everywhere.

So even though I have loved math my whole life, the progression of what math meant/means to me is fascinating.

I hope to shift the mindsets of future elementary school teachers and show them that math is not just for the people who are good at memorizing. Math is for everyone. Like Jo Boaler states, everyone can achieve math at the highest level, and I hope I can lead my students there.