Posts Tagged ‘math’

The Best (and Hardest) Part of My Day

April 24, 2013

(overheard in my third grade math group as some kids were trying to put a math problem together from random words and numbers)

Them: Mrs. Levin, this is hard!
Me: Yep. It is. You’re not complaining, are you?
Them: No.
Me: Oh good. Because you deserve to have things hard sometimes.
(more work, more missing the target)
Them: Is there even an ANSWER TO THIS?
Me: Yep.
(more work, still no answer)
Them: This is IMPOSSIBLE!!
Me: Nope. Nope, it’s not.
Them: This is so FRUSTRATING!
Me: Yep. And you deserve frustrating. You deserve the chance to work for something really hard.
(more work, still no answer)
Me: (taking some index cards with the words and numbers on them) Here, try arranging these until you find something that works.

(shuffling the cards, switching and swiping, still no answer)

Them: Mrs. Levin, are you SURE this has an answer?
Me: Yep, I’m sure.
(more shuffling, more debating, until EUREKA!)


Watching them and saying nothing even though these kids were SO DARN CLOSE, SO MANY TIMES. My tongue still has bite marks on it.

Me: See what I mean? You struggled through something and then you did it? How do you feel now?
Them: Super-awesome.
Me: Yeah. ‘Cause you ARE awesome. Awesomely awesome.

A Job Well Done: Exhibit A

December 20, 2012

Snapped this photo right after my fifth grade math class.


I love this stuff. See all those pencil shavings? Know what that means?

People were making mistakes. Mistakes they felt safe enough to make. Mistakes that they cared enough to correct. Consider how important that is to a room full of perfectionists.

Makes my day.


December 1, 2011

Welcome to Mount Math-More

You know what this stuff is, right?

To the uninitiated, it’s just a big old mess of math supplies.

Well, actually, you’re right. That’s what it is. But really? That’s not what it is. You see, I’m a teacher. The desire for new school supplies runs in my veins. The yearly school supply order brings squeals of joy as I rip into boxes of bulletin borders, EXPO markers and scratch-and-sniff stickers. Back-to-school sales at local stores send me into near euphoria as I contemplate crayons with perfect tips and impossibly pink erasers. And a perfectly sharpened pencil? Don’t get me started.

So the thought of new school stuff is exciting enough already. But this pile of sheer math-y goodness isn’t for me. All of these materials – the thousands of cubes, the hundreds of dice, and more – all of them are going out to other teachers in my school. That’s what makes it even more exciting.

Every teacher who gets one of these kits is going to use it to differentiate math instruction in his or her classroom. And as a person whose job it is to support teachers in differentiation, this pile represents more than you can imagine.

I’m pretty proud of this pile. It’s a physical product of my belief that every kid deserves to learn something new every day. It’s a tangible reminder that I work with incredible colleagues who are ready and open to take on professional challenges. It’s only taken a few weeks for the order to arrive, but it takes years to develop the trust for teachers to open up their classrooms and their planbooks, and invite me in. It’s one thing when teachers ask me for books, worksheets, or lesson ideas. It’s quite another when teachers want to make changes to the way they teach. I’ve always felt in my heart that I could effect change outside of the walls of my own room, and I am finally seeing it happen. It’s humbling to be part of it all, actually.

Tomorrow afternoon, some teachers and I are going to have a packing party. We’re going to bag and box everything up. Kits are going out to teachers I’ve worked and planned with, with extras ordered for anyone who wants to jump on the bandwagon.

Until then, you can find me in my classroom. I’ll be taking a private moment in the presence of new school supplies. The polyhedra dice are calling. Such a sweet, sweet song…

Where the Time Goes, Part 2

September 17, 2009

So the next day the kids are coming in, having found the areas for all rectangles with a perimeter of 56 units. They had all drawn and counted out the squares. We went through answers together, and then one student pipes up and says,
“Hey. I think I found a shortcut for finding how much space they take up. You can multiply the two numbers together.”
“Hmm,” I say. “Are you saying that you can multiply the two dimensions, and it will give you the space it takes up – its area?”
I’m doing jumping jacks inside with this “discovery,” but I play it cool.
“Kids, take out calculators and see if his theory is correct.”
Sure enough, wouldn’t you believe it!?
Well, then, we can take a look at how we write dimensions in the first place: 3×5, 6×8.
“HEY! That’s the multiplication sign!!”

Why yes, it is, she thinks with a sly grin.

Where the Time Goes

September 15, 2009

So now that the school year has hit, my schedule and routine has slowly gotten back to its rhythm.

Which means that so many of the things I made time for during the summer have just gone away.

Today, I was just thinking how disappointed I was in myself. After all, over the summer I became a full-fledged Tweeter, networking with others in both tech and gifted education. I joined Diigo, sharing math and other educational links with colleagues on the Internet. I kept up with Google Reader, searching out blogs and websites that would be of benefit to my teaching.

Where all is my time going? What exactly am I doing? How am I working to develop as a teacher?

All my haven’ts and my shouldn’ts were starting to pile up in my mind like papers on my desk waiting to be filed.


Enter my fourth graders, who are working through a unit on measurement. Let the record stand that the teaching of measurement puzzles me. Kids – even accelerated ones – still lack essential foundations needed to truly understand concepts of area and perimeter. I’ve been working for the past year or two to tease it out. And when I do, I’m going to shout it from the rooftops.

But I digress.

The kids came in today with their homework. They had to create animal “pens” on graph paper with perimeters of 56 feet. I was all excited to let them compare the rectangles they had drawn so we could move on with the next part of the lesson: comparing dimensions and looking for patterns.

But here’s the kicker. Obviously, I didn’t spend enough time telling students to draw RECTANGLES. We had all sorts of 56-foot long fences, only about a third of which were actual rectangles. Some of them were pretty wacky, if I say so myself. My heart sank. I couldn’t tell the kids they did the assignment wrong. Because they didn’t. Time to think fast.

And then I realized those crazy shapes would fit right into our discussion later this week about how to most efficiently use that fencing to create pens of the greatest area. Of course they could make crazy fences, but they’d sacrifice space.

Whew! One down. Score one for Mrs. Levin.¬† And I didn’t even have to claim my mess-up on the assignment.

I thought I was coasting along pretty well until the kids had to take the dimensions of rectangles we recorded on the board, put them in order and point out patterns. We had four rectangles to consider: 14×14, 20×8, 10×18, and 8×20. It was obvious to me they were supposed to arrange with the dimensions going from smallest to largest. Then they were supposed to notice that as one dimension got bigger, the other one got smaller. I did everything I could to steer them down that path.

Then came a couple of stubborn ones who decided that no, they would arrange the dimensions by the DIFFERENCE between the two. They could write down the order, and they could describe how they figured it out. But patterns? They couldn’t find any. Because on their lists, the dimensions didn’t go in order.

And then it hit me. The patterns wouldn’t show up for them. At least, not today. But when we start comparing the areas of these arrays later this week? That’s when it gets good! These kids found a way to arrange the rectangles from most to least square. Some pretty sophisticated thinking from ten-year olds, if I say so myself. And patterns? Judge for yourself. Look at the areas of these rectangles with the same perimeter:

1×9=9 square units

2×8=16 square units¬† (7 more than above)

3×7=21 square units (5 more than above)

4×6=24 square units (3 more than above)

5×5=25 square units. (1 more than above)

See the differences? Notice how they are odd numbers going down? 7,5,3,1? You can try that with any group of rectangles. It will work. (I’d like to think that I could take credit for this discovery, but I have to thank another fourth grader for sparking the same investigation three years ago.) I can’t wait to lead this year’s fourth graders down this path. Maybe they’ll have another fork in the road for me.


Where all is my time going? What exactly am I doing? How am I working to develop as a teacher?

Oh yeah. I’m teaching. More importantly, I’m learning.