Super Math Teacher

The thoughts of a middle school math teacher

The end of an era

Today was the last day of work for me at AIS. It was graduation day for my Grade 8 kids.

It was a bittersweet time. I gave the teacher speech. I recognized students. It was a moving ceremony.

Afterwards, there were the numerous pictures with the kids. There were lots of tears.

It has been a long ride, and it is time for the next phase of my overseas adventure tires to begin.

Leave a comment »

Saigon Junior Math Competition 2018

Saturday was the final math competition of the year for me.  It was the Saigon Junior Math competition, designed primarily for middle school students.

This year, AIS took 3 teams of 3.  We also had 4 alternates, but only 1 chose to attend.  He actually ended up competing as part of another school’s team, who had a member not come.  All in all, 10 students competed in the 4 rounds: Individual, Pass Back, Cross Number, and Relay.

Although we did not win any individual or team awards, I am proud of the students that went.  They knew they were up against students from other schools who tend to win these competitions.  During the awards, we predicted which school would win.


Two weeks ago, we competed against the same schools in the Saigon Junior Logic competition.  Our teams, composed of 2 students from Grade 7 and 6 students from Grade 6, were the youngest ones  there.  However, our B team, made up of 6th grade students, won the Engineering Round, where they built the tallest free-standing tower of marshmallows and spaghetti noodles — an impressive 113.5cm tall.  The second place tower was just under 100cm.


I am happy with the students’ overall performance.  At the same time, I am relieved that the competition season has ended for me.  These students gave up other after school activities to practice, and then gave up 2 different Saturdays in order to attend the competitions. (Meeting at 7am in order to ride the school bus to the competition locations was not fun!)

Leave a comment »

Solving Quadratics

My students have been working with quadratics and their graphs for a couple of weeks.  I love this unit, because there is so much real world math that can be used.

Yesterday and today, I decided to change things up.  My students can take any equations and graph it, with and without the aid of Desmos.  So I changed it a little.

I gave students 16 graphs.  THen I gave them the equations, in both Standard Form and Vertex Form.  Students had to match the two forms of the equations and the graphs.  I don’t teach vertex form at all, but I thought my students would rise to the challenge.  And they did.  There was a good deal of discussion within their groups.  At first it was “What is vertex form” and “You didn’t tell us about vertex form.”  However, during the 55 minutes students worked on the activity, the conversation changed.  I heard students saying “All we have to do is expand the equation” and “THis is just another form of this [as they pointed to the different equations].

Few finished during the class period.  That was okay.  I listened as groups explained their strategies to determine which ones matched.  The strategies were varied, but they led to student success.  I did not have to intervene, except to remind students to work as a group.

I can’t take credit for the activity; I modified a cut and paste activity that I found online so that students did not have t cut.  Even with the typo in an equation (thanks Mai and SK), students were engaged and working.  A tough thing to d with 12 days of classes remaining!

Leave a comment »


So one of my students came to see me today about a grade.  He started the conversation by saying he learned his lesson about checking in his folder for assignments, and realized he did not have the assignment due today.  After checking with other students, he asked for a copy.

THen the conversation changed topics.  He told me he knew that he should be penalized for another assign,ment because he knew he turned it in late. (I had forgotten it was late.)  So we talked about it.  I asked him if he felt he should be penalized because he turned in the assignment late (I usually deduct 10 points).  THis young man decided that because it was his fault, I had to deduct the points.  I really didn’t plan on it, since he was so honest.  However, I told him that it was his choice.  I showed him how the grade change would affect his average.  Even seeing his overall average drop, he still wanted to have me lower his grade.

There is still some honesty and integrity left in today’s students!

Leave a comment »


Got your attention, didn’t I?

It wasn’t really a fire.  I was cooking dinner.  There was a lot of smoke from the oil I was using on the stove, and it set off the smoke detector.  The next thing I know, there are 5 security guards, and someone from management (I think) at my door.  They came in, and started to laugh.

I  guess it is funny.  After the apartment fire in another part of the city, there seems to be a greater awareness of fire safety.  The guards came, and opened the doors, and cleared the detector. I kept saying (in English) “Cooking dinner.”  They looked in the kitchen, and sure enough, they saw I had been cooking.  The whole time, they are laughing at me.  I was laughing with them.  After all, it was a dumb thing to do.  There wasn’t a fire, just a lot of smoke.

At least I know the smoke detector works!  And there is a quick response!

Leave a comment »

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?”


Leave a comment »

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!

Leave a comment »

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.

Leave a comment »

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.

Leave a comment »

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!


Leave a comment »