Super Math Teacher

The thoughts of a middle school math teacher

Factoring with Algebra Tiles

Let’s face it.  Factoring polynomials is not a fun thing.  Most of us hated it when we taught how to do it Waaaaaaaaaaaaay back in the day.  And we probably don’t remember any of it.

This year, I introduced factoring solely related to the Box Method used for multiplying two binomials.  If I used the box, then students could make connections that we were working backwards.  No trick or gimmicks!

I gave my students a set of tiles, a trinomial, and the directions “build a rectangle that matches”  Nothing else.

The results:

While these are not precisely what I had in mind, students did figure out that they had to make something.  They got creative.

After working the same one on the board, students were given an assignment to work, and to draw their resulting rectangle.

Most students were able to “see” the box with the results.  They made the connections.  I kept getting asked “Will we get to use these on the test?”


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A trip Down Under

I had a fabulous trip to Cairns, Australia for Spring Break.  A trip to the Great Barrier Reef, a visit to Daintree and Cape Tribulation, spending the day in Kuranda…..all experiences that could not be beat while I was there.

I spent one day on the Reef, snorkeling at different locations.  With the underwater camera that I rented for the day, I was able to capture some amazing sea life.  The water is not as clear as normal, due to teh fact that a cyclone (think hurricane) was south of Cairns.  What an experience!

I spent another afternoon at Tjapukai, the Aborigine center just outside of town.  With an aborigine guide, I got to try my hand at throwing boomerangs (I think I’ll stick with a Frisbee!), learn how the didgeridoo is played, see native stories brought to life, and try a kangaroo burger.

I spent a whole day heading north to Daintree National Forest (it’s a rainforest) and Cape Tribulation.  Here, the UNESCO site of mangrove rainforest meets the UNESCO site of the Great Barrier Reef. Of course, there were numerous warning signs about the crocodiles!

Spending another day at Kuranda was also fun.  In many ways, the little town reminded me of Asheville, NC, with the arts and crafts shops, the many small restaurants, and just the overall vibe.  Here, I visited the Kuranda Koala Gardens and the Butterfly sanctuary.  THe highlights: Holding a koala (so CUTE!) and feeding and petting kangaroos and wallabies (they are so soft!).  I opted not to visit the venomous reptiles park (I hate snakes!), but I did enjoy walking around the town.  Getting there was via the Skyrail over the top of the rainforest.  I had to return teh same way, since the train is not running because of heavy rains and the tracks are partially washed out.

It was an amazing trip to an amazing place!  I’m so glad I decided to go while I was in this part of the world!

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Just some random things

So, I haven’t written a math post in a couple of weeks.  Here it is, the week before spring break.  Students are working with polynomials, and actually doing quite well, for the most part.  We finished with linear equations and inequalities (yeah!) after working on that particular unit since January.

My assessment for the linear equations and inequalities unit was unique.  Students had a map of the US with points marked.  Then graphing a series of linear inequalities, they had to determine the location of the treasure.  I allowed students to work in groups for this, which made everyone more successful.  Talk about a high level of engagement!  Then there was a second assessment that was all application:  Using a scenario about burger and cheeseburgers, students wrote, solved and graphed a system of equations.  Then the scenario was altered to make a system of inequalities.

At school, we have had a science fair.  Grade 8 students had to create a Rube-Goldberg, while students in grade 6, 7, 9, and 10 did a more traditional project.  All teachers then had to judge 3 projects.  There were some interesting projects!

Then there is the production of Oliver!  This involves about 200 of the 300 students in the middle school.  We watched it today.  Then back in class, students were able to offer constructive criticism of the performance.  I was impressed with the ideas that my students came up with: enunciate (both the speech and the songs), have smoother transitions between scenes, work on the sound quality, make laughter and speech more natural, just to name a few.

Only a couple more days, and then it is Spring Break.  I am off to Australia for the week, and so looking forward to it!  After break, it is time to think about getting ready for the move to Turkey.

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SEAMC in Manila

On March 1-4, I traveled with 5 students to Manila for the South East Asia Math Competition (SEAMC).  Students competed in a variety of team and individual events.  THis was the first time that AIS participated.

While I did not actually coach the team, I did teach 2 of the 5 students.  This year, we had a Senior team (grade 10-12) and a Junior team (Grades 6-9).  Due to a quirk in travel laws, our 6th grade team member was unable to make the trip (although we tried everything we could to get him to Manila).

Our Junior team ended up with a substitute member from the British School Manila.  At least this way our students could still compete.  BSM was one of the two schools hosting the competition.

Our students were up against schools from China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Philippines, and Bali.  The other Vietnamese schools were also from HCMC.

The results were not stellar for our team, but that was almost expected.  We placed 2nd in the Junior Codebreaker competition and 1st in the Senior Codebreaker.  This involved determining a given number in a pattern/sequence (the sequence was not in order).  Even I had trouble figuring out some of the sequences!

We don’t know the results of the other competitions, but we did have a student whose buddy team placed 2nd in communication.  A buddy team is a randomly assigned team from different schools.  Students had to work with others that they did not know, forcing communication and collaboration.

We also had one student qualify for a Golden Ticket to the World Math Competition this summer in Australia.  I can honestly say that I was surprised, since students were competing against top math students from other schools in the region.

Overall, it was a good trip, and we made a decent showing for our first time ever in the competition.

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Tet Fair (Celebrating the Lunar New Year)

Each year, we get a 2 week vacation in order to celebrate Tet, also known as the Lunar New Year.  At AIS, there is an annual Tet Fair, held a week before the holiday, so that the school can have a celebration.

In the past, the Tet Fair has been one big celebration, lasting either a whole day or half day, for the whole school.  This year, the celebration was for a couple of hours, and was celebrated in each building.  Teachers, staff, and students get an opportunity to wear traditional dress (if they choose) in order to celebrate.

As usual, there was the traditional Dragon dance.  It is always fun to watch!

Now there are only a few days left until the holiday.  Chúc mừng năm mới!


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Asking for help

I always encourage my students to ask for help.  Most of the time, they just give up.  This week, however, I had to ask for help.

My students are working on solving systems of equations.  This week, I introduced the dreaded word problem.  As soon as students saw the problems, I immediately heard the moans and groans.  The  “I hate word problems.”  So we walked through the steps, using a template, courtesy of Sarah Carter at Math Equals Love (follow her blog if you don’t already!  She is amazing!!)

I gave my students an assignment, which they started in class.  I always work out my answer keys by hand, so that I can anticipate where students will struggle.  Sure enough, I ran into trouble.

Writing my equations for one problem, I could only come up with one equation.  When I did get a second equation, it gave a negative answer, which made no sense in the context of the problem.  So I emailed a friend back in the US, asking her for help.  She sent 2 equations.  I decided I would graph the system, in order to make sure of the solution.  I had 3 equations, which unfortunately did not have a single point of intersection……They had 3 points of intersection.

Knowing my students would struggle, I reached out for help from a former student.  Thai is taking Algebra 2 as a freshman, so I figured he could help.  after he made some fun of me (which I knew would happen), he gave me the correct equation.

The next class period, I told my students about what happened.  I wanted them to see the value of asking for help.  Hopefully, they will appreciate the fact that I showed them it was okay to ask for help.


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Cap and Gown pictures

We have been back in school for a week now following Winter Break.  So far, we have had the graduation cap and gown pictures, an early release day, gotten a new student, lost a really good student, and started to narrow down the Junior Math competition team members.  A pretty busy week!

Graduation cap and gown pictures came early this year.  It makes the year seem so final,  even though there are a full 2 quarters to go.

Of course, we still had to get everyone in place, and fix all the tassels, and make sure no one had their eyes closed….with and without teachers in the picture.


Of course, Mr Chris had to get in the spirit of things.

Students won’t wear these again until June…..


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Christmas Card

It is just a few days left until Winter Break.  This year, I am flying to the US, for one night, before joining family on a cruise through the Panama Canal.  I am so ready for this break!

This has been a challenging week.  Not because of what I am teaching .  I love teaching linear equations.  IT has been challenging because the students are ready for break, and are also overwhelmed with their tests, projects, and school stuff at the end of the quarter/semester.  Needless to say, I have been frustrated a great deal this week.

My day was made with the arrival of a Christmas card from a cousin.  Since mail is unreliable to have delivered to my apartment, things are sent to me at school.  Of course, it came during homeroom.



My students were fascinated by the mail.  THey weren’t curious about who it was from.  Their comments were more along the lines of “Who sends mail?”  and “How much did it cost to send?”  I messaged my cousin top let her know I received the card, and that it took about two and half weeks to arrive.  I shared her response with the kids.  “It cost more to mail than the cost of the card.”

The card was a great pick me up after a frustrating week.  Tomorrow should be better.  It is Friday, casual day, an A day, and the opening of the new Star Wars movie (which I already have tickets to go see, with a group of friends).

I keep telling myself…It is only a few more days!

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Slope and Linear Equations

I like teaching about linear equations. Over the years, I have started using more hands on activities in order to help students make connections with the different types of equations.  Desmos, if you have not used it before, has a wealth of activities that are available.  This year, I created my own introduction to slope activity.


Students were definitely engaged!  They remember What Slope Dude says. (I personally, cannot stand the Adventures of Slope Dude, but my students loved it!

In addition to introducing slope, 2 classes were able to use the activity Land the Plane.  Or, as they called it, Crash the Plane.  This was more challenging, since it had to be EXACT, but students had fun.  They also played polygraph and which is steepest.  All of these are available from Desmos.


In the room, we do a version of Simon says, only with slope.  Students are very competitive, and it was fun to watch the students who usually struggle actually be the winners, while top students were more likely to get out in the first few rounds.


We also did a matching activity with slope intercept form.  It was easy to match the equation with the slope and the y-intercept, but then they had another point that was on the line.  Students had to determine which point was on which equation, without graphing!  The discussions among pairs of students were incredible!

Coming up: Point Slope form and Standard form….stay tuned.

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Week Without Walls 2017

One of the things I have come to enjoy about teaching internationally is the Week Without Walls trip.  This week was my 3rd trip in 4 years (last year, the grade 8 trip did not happen).  As the lone female teacher in the 8th grade, it was a given that i would go.  Three other teachers came, plus 2 Vietnamese staff, the nurse and one other staff member.  In addition, there were 44 students.  We also had 3 staff members from teh company that organized everything.

I enjoy these trips.  Yes, it means I am basically in teacher mode 24/7 for the duration of the trip.  However, seeing students trying new things and getting out of their comfort zones is always a treat.

This year, we went to Phan Thiet and Mui Ne, beach towns that are a 4 hour bus drive from Ho Chi Minh City.  Prior to this trip, I had not visited Mui Ne yet.  The beach here is relatively clean (for a Vietnamese beach).  WIth the recent typhoon, there seemed to be less trash than one normally finds on a beach here in Vietnam.

The kids had the opportunity to spend all morning nat a sailing center.  They went sailing in small sailboats, got to experience stand up paddle boarding, and try to steer a traditional Vietnamese fishing boat, called a coracle (which is a round boat).  Teachers have the option to participate as much or as little as they want.  I spent most of the morning on shore, taking pictures, but I did go out in the small coracle.

For the middle of November, it was nice to be at the beach and getting sun.  The water was nice and warm.  Of course, the warm water had its drawbacks…..jellyfish.  We actually had a couple of students get stung by the jellyfish.

After lunch, students went to an organic farm.  These are rare here, so students learned what it means to be organic.  They also got to help out and plant some lemongrass.  Then the Students Council members presented the owner with some seeds as a thank you.

One aspect of this trip is the opportunity to do some service.  Planting the lemongrass was one way.  Earlier, at the beach, students picked up trash on the beach.  There were few complainers about participating.

The trip always has a bonfire the last night.  What better setting than on the beach?  As the fire slowly died down, there are marshmallows to roast.  Many have never done this except on these types of trips.  Students get to relax and just have fun.

Although this was a short trip (just 3 days), there was a great deal packed into it.  It is also my last one in Vietnam.

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