Super Math Teacher

The thoughts of a middle school math teacher

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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Slope and Linear Equations

Quarter 2 is my favorite quarter of the year.  Mainly because of the content in Algebra 1.  We have just finished functions, and are ready to start Linear equations.  Of course, there are 2 days of class before the 8th grade trip for Week Without Walls to Mui Ne.

WHat better way to start then to utilize the computer lab.  I created a Desmos activity (Intro to Slope).  Okay, so that was tricky, and I spent 1 day creating it, and another 3 days tweaking what I had.  Still, for my first time creating an activity, I think I did OK.

slope 1

This gave some interesting responses.  Some students thought that A was the only one going downhill.  Others thought A would be the most fun.  Some thought A was suicide.  Reading the responses gave some insight into student thinking about slope.

When students finished with the Desmos activity, they then used Desmos to graph some equations and see how changing the constant or coefficient changed the graph.  Interesting comparisons were made by students.  I enjoyed watching students play with Desmos, but could tell that they were trying to determine the answers.  Many students had forgotten what a constant was, which made the question “Describe what happens to a graph when a constant is added” difficult to answer.

Today’s lesson definitely was one with high engagement and I look forward to reading student responses in Desmos over the weekend.  I have high hopes for this unit, if today was any indication.



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Fall Break

We just had our fall break.  This means it was end of Quarter 1.  🙂

I decided to spend my break in Dubai, UAE.  I had never been to this part of the world before, so I was looking forward to visiting a new part of the world.

I took advantage of the break to relax, take a couple of tours, and enjoy myself.  The highlight was the desert camel safari and desert dinner.

I can say that while visiting and staying in Dubai is expensive, Singapore is more expensive.  Just food for thought.


Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building



Jumeirah Mosque, Dubai


Spice Souk, Dubai


Old Souk, Dubai


Abra, Dubai Creek


Ready for a camel ride!


On the camel


Camel safari at sunset


Dressed in abaya at Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi



Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi


Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi


At Ferrari World, Abu Dhabi


Sunset over Dubai

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Equations and inequalities

I changed up how I am reaching this year.  I am not following the order of the textbook, but have grouped different sections together to make the units.  Students are taking more responsibility by completing their notes (I still provide Cornell Notes handouts for each section).  I am not using a PowerPoint for every lesson, like I have done in the past.  Students are more engaged (they have to be!) and it seems to be working.

I still use many of the activities that I always use.  The order is different, and many times they are used for discovery instead of culminating activities.  One of my favorite is the Inequality Story.  We talk about Inequalities, and then students have to read and identify the inequality phrases.  Using them, they then write inequalities symbolically, and then answer some questions that are unrelated to the story.  As usual, students get to work with a partner, so they can discuss the different phrases and what it means.  This was the introduction to inequalities.

After this, we worked with solving equations and inequalities.  Students saw the similarities (yea!) and realized the same steps were used.  Even though we then moved back and forth from equations to inequalities, students were successful on many assignments and activities.  Even the quiz was a success.

We made several different foldables to help us during the unit.  By far the most frequently used one was the Solving Multi Step Equations one:


Students referenced this during most of the activities in order to help them remember what needed to be done and in what order.  It did not matter if they were solving equations or inequalities.

There were lots of hands on activities.  This helped even my most reluctant students to make connections and solve equations and inequalities successfully. If you look carefully, you will see the foldable being used by some students as they work through equations activities with a partner of their choice.

A few pairs made it through all of these, and began to work with my challenge activity of solving multi-step equations with the variable on both sides.  There was definitely a sense of accomplishment as they saw success.  Students even had to discuss the No Solution and Infinitely Many Solutions they encountered (I did not give them any hints!).


Reflecting on the quarter, I have seen much more collaboration among students.  There is definitely more discussion going on in the room.  I am not talking nearly as much as in the past.  I hope I can continue to keep this style of teaching up throughout the remainder of the year.

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Moving on

Okay, so I haven’t written anything in a month.  I have been busy, and well, what I wanted to write about needed to be finalized first.

So what is going on?  I knew I wanted to explore other job options at the end of my contract year this year.  So I had already activated my profiles with SEARCH and ISS.  I got everything updated over the summer, so that it would be ready when active recruiting started.  Recruitment for international jobs gets underway in October.  In fact, at AIS, we won’t even get our intent forms until we return from Fall Break on October 23.

Imagine my surprise, when a school reached out to me the beginning of September.  After a few emails, and 3 Skype sessions, as well as talking with a few people I know in the International community, I decided to accept the job offer at the school.

The school is a top school, located in……….are you ready?……………Ankara Turkey.  In spite of the current political turmoil in Turkey, after talking with some current and former colleagues and some future colleagues, I feel that this is the best decision for me.  I will be teaching Middle School Math (grade level to be determined) starting in August 2018 at Bilkent Laboratory and International School.  It is time to move on.

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We have been working hard on our exponents unit.  I moved this unit from the 2nd semester to the beginning of the year in order to align more closely with the science curriculum.. THis has allowed us to do some cross curricular activities.

We have done lots of matching card sorts.  These are some of my favorite activities!  Students are able to be successful and can see if they are right.  It is also something that I do frequently.  Students are talking with each other and trying to determine the answer.

We have also done a couple of scavenger hunts related to scientific notation and exponents.  THis gets the students out of the room and moving around.  Always a plus in middle school!

I did a new sort this year.  Students had to match the solution and problem for laws of exponents.  Then, they had to upload a picture of their matches to Google classroom.  THis way, I save some trees and can see the different methods students use.  Especially since there are 14 problems and only 10 solution cards.  Again students were talking and discussing their ideas.  SOme started over multiple times.  Some really weren’t sure how to start.  It gave me a nice little assessment of the exponent rules.


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How thick is a page of your textbook?

Scientific notation is one of those things that many students have difficulty with.  After having a discussion with JP, my science colleague, we decided to emphasize the connections between science and algebra with one activity.  I warned my students that I was going to be evil today (bwahahahahaha).  They did not appreciate that!

I can’t take credit for the activity; I found it online, and made a few changes for my students.  The activity is titled “How thick is one page of your math textbook?”  JP and I had discussed various places that students would struggle.  After having 2 classes do the activity, I was amazed that one major misconception was NOT evident.

Students had to find the measurement of the thickness of a single page of their algebra book.  Of course, there are all the pages with Roman numerals, and a few blank pages, in addition to the 800+ numbered pages.  Every group recognized that they could take the total number of pages that had a number (or were added in) and divide by 2 to get the number of pages.

It was interesting to see the different strategies used to measure one page.  Most groups took the total thickness, which they measured, and divided by the number of pages.  Some groups took just a section, measured, and divided (they used 100 pages, instead of the entire book).  Of course, this measuring led to errors related to precision.

Next week, JP will be taking this a bit further.  Since they are studying elements and the periodic table, he will have them research the size of the different sub-atomic particles, and determine how many of each type of particle will fit in the thickness of one page.

One student, who struggles academically, but really likes math, told me at the end of class that he really thought I made the class fun.  This activity was one that he enjoyed, even though is was challenging.

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Combine Like Terms and Distributive Property

As I started this year, my fourth at AIS in Vietnam, I have realized that my students do not always need every section in the algebra book.  This year is the first time at AIS that I am not teaching students I have taught in previous years.

I decided that the year would begin with a review unit of simple concepts: order of operations, distributive property, combining like terms, along with solving simple equations and rules for operations with integers.

Order of operations was straightforward.  Students worked in their groups solving problems and helping each other out.  Success was immediate, and the few students with difficulties I was able to help.

For Distributive Property and Combining Like terms, we reviewed these concepts, which students recognized.  I gave a notes handout with these two, and after discussing vocabulary and giving a few tips, students were able to finish their notes.

The next class day, I decided to see what students remembered.  I had two files that were fun activities.  Both of them were scavenger hunt activities.  I posted the 10 problems for each activity in the area I call “my second classroom” (this is a large open area on the floor that usually is used for art displays.  It is perfect to allow students to move around, but also has enough room that they can sit and work as needed.)  As I was hanging the problems, my principal walked by.  His comment “I remember this activity from last year!”


Students were numbered, so that there would not be a huge group starting at the same place.  They copied and solved their problem, and then moved on.  Students were able to work at their own pace, which eliminated the fear of not understanding.  Other teachers walked by and stood and watched.  They questioned students who were finished.  They tried to solve some of the problems themselves.

I allow my students to help each other.  This gets them discussing math.  Since this group is new to my style of teaching, it takes them a couple of weeks to get used to having the freedom to talk in class.  I am always circulating, and can easily listen to conversations, as well as join in with a few questions or comments.

This lesson was definitely a success with the students!

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Time for another year!

It is hard to believe that the summer has ended.  School started back for teachers on August 2.  Students returned on August 9.  After numerous meetings in the days leading up to classes starting, classes began.  The first day was an assembly, and then all classes for about 30 minutes each.  On August 10, we started with the A day/B day rotation.

As usual, I took class photos of each class.  This year, my classes are about 20 students each.  Also changing…..Homeroom and my Eagle time (English Language development) are the same students.  My homeroom this year has 12 students (9 girls and 3 boys).


Just from 2 full days of class, this is looking to be a good year!


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Summer has ended

This summer has gone very quickly.  After graduation on June 16, I left for 6 weeks in the USA on June 18.  Now it is July 28 and I am at the airport yo head back to Vietnam for another year at AIS.

During the summer, I spent most of the time in eastern North Carolina.  Of course, there was the trip to Myrtle Beach for a few days.  All I can say is surf and sun, plus a real teacher store.  😀

The biggest trip was to Baltimore for the NCTM Interactive Institutes.  I spent a weeks there, with other math teachers, learning about Mathematical Discourse and Productive Struggle.  I can’t wait to use some of what I learned in my classroom!  I am looking forward to sharing some of the ias with my department at AIS as well.

My sister traveled with me to Baltimore.  We spent the evenings wandering around the Inner Harbor area, where we were staying.  The highlight was the National Aquarium for the afternoon.  In addition, we walked to Federal Hill, which we climbed and got great views of the Harbor. We encountered, by chance, the mascot for the Baltimore ore Ravens NFL team.  We found the haunting Holocast memorial, reminiscent of the boxcars used in Europe in WWII.

I had the chance to have lunch with a former colleague from AIS one day while there.  It was a nice, although short visit.

While in North Carolina, I did a little shopping (of course) and helped Mom with some things that she needed done.  Essentially, it was just a chance to relax and recharge for the upcoming school year.  School starts next week!

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