Warning: If you haven’t figured it out by now (and the name of my blog wasn’t a clue), I am not a math teacher. I have had the privilege of working with some excellent math teachers, but I am not a math teacher. I will be forever grateful to my math teaching colleagues who patiently answered my many questions, and never once laughed when I walked in their room with my book literally on my head to cover my frustration. That said, as an ESL teacher, I am often required to teach subjects I am not comfortable with (Science! I am definitely NOT a science teacher!), math in particular. It’s taken a few years (OK, more than a few), but thanks to my wonderful colleagues and a lot of practice, I finally feel relatively comfortable teaching math, at least through pre-algebra. Today’s post is math related, and is dedicated to all of the wonderful math teachers who put up with me in PLC meetings (HCA FePi and Pontiac Middle, I’m thinking of you!) and patiently explained the concepts I never grasped as a student.
When faced with teaching content I’m not comfortable with I tend to fall back on teaching strategies that I am comfortable using. For me, that means visuals, games, task cards, and other active learning materials. One year we were approaching St. Patrick’s Day and my students were struggling with integers and one step equations. I’d already provided them with a visual, a color-coded poster that reviewed vocabulary and the steps to follow (use the link to get your own free copy), and we’d practiced more times than I cared to think about. Desperate for more practice activities, I decided to make a set of task cards. Rather than use X or Y as the variable, I used a shamrock outline instead. While this one activity didn’t magically transmit the skill of solving one step equations with integers into my students’ heads, it was a fun and different way to practice. The students enjoyed working in groups and being able to do something that wasn’t a worksheet for a change.
Since this St. Patrick’s Day will be a little different, I wanted to make a digital version of the activity so students could continue to have a little fun while practicing this important skill. I could have created a set of digital task cards, but that would have required me to come up with answer choices and not provided teachers with any feedback on student learning. Self-grading digital task cards were also an option, and it would solve my problems with digital task cards, but I wasn’t overly excited about the idea. I finally decided to make a digital mystery picture (for a tutorial on how I create them, see this blog post).
The hardest part of any digital mystery picture creation, in my opinion, is the creation of the picture. Since these task cards were originally St. Patrick’s Day themed, I wanted to continue in that vein. I settled on the picture that you see above: a pot of gold under a rainbow. I’m not an artist, but basic shapes are doable, and the rounded shapes were easier to create than I’d feared. I will admit that I went a little crazy filling in the background, and ended up with far more squares that needed to be colored in than I’d expected, but it all worked out in the end. I was able to reuse the equations from the paper task cards, but this time I used the traditional variable X instead of a shamrock. I’m quite happy with the end result, and I think it’s a fun way for students to practice. Teachers are still not going to see student work, but they can see their final answers, and students receive immediate feedback as to the accuracy of their answers.
As I said in the beginning, a bit of a different post for me. Next week I’ll be happily ensconced back in the friendly world of grammar, vocabulary, and all things English, but I wanted to wish everyone an early Happy St. Patrick’s Day, and give a quick shout-out to my math teaching friends. HCA FePi and Pontiac Middle math PLC, I couldn’t have done it without you! You know who you are, and you know where to find me if you want a copy of the digital activity. Happy teaching, everyone.