Week 1 Day 2 – Top 10 things not to ask me about your calculator.

On the 2nd day of school last Top 10 thingsyear I sent out a tweet about the top 10 things students were not allowed to ask me about the TI-84 calculator after that day’s class.  This tweet received more re-tweets and feedback than anything else I’d done on twitter prior to starting my blog later that fall.
Ten years prior to this tweet I had been sharing this list with teachers in professional development sessions I did while working at my districts office.  I told them that I had figured out the hard way that if I just modeled these 10 things for my students up front it prevented 5-100 student questions (or logs of whining) every day of the school year & this saved me tons of time in the classroom throughout the year.
I honestly had forgotten about my list until I returned to HS last fall and the teacher 10 ti84I co-planned with all year said “Sara, I use the calculator list I got from you years ago on day 2  of school every year”.  (side note:  every time a teacher tells me they use something in their class i told them about I am always a bit amazed that people actually listen to me and use something I give them)  She then gave me this sheet that she has students take notes on each fall and showed me her posters of the same items she leaves up all school year.   I was like – “Cool.  Let’s do it.”.  On day 2 we introduced the 10 things everyone should know about the TI=84 graphing Calculator and were not allowed to ask about after we went through them.  We encouraged students to take great notes.  We had students attach these notes to their notebook so they would have something to go back to during the year.
I know, I know what some of your thinking – “Sara, why are you teaching kids how to use the TI-84 when you love Desmos so much?”  I do love Desmos.  I mean I REALLY LOVE Desmos.  In my classroom it is not TI-84 OR Desmos, it is TI-84 AND Desmos.  We use both.  Most students prefer Desmos but as long as I have a classroom set of TI-84 graphing calculators (and the TI-84 is still the preferred calculator on our state exams) I will continue to use both options. That said, I don’t really want to put any $ into TI-84’s going forward.
So this fall (in a week or two) on day 2 of school we will be highlighting graphing calculators again with a few tweeks:
  • Our learning target on day 2 & 3 will be: I can advocate for myself when I amadvocacy struggling in math.  We will define the word ‘advocate’ and ‘self-advocacy’.  We will watch the ‘stuck on an escalator‘ video on day 2 and ‘Beagle Chicken McNugget‘ video on day 3 of school. (both are mentioned in this previous post about persistence and mindsets).  We will talk about what it looks/sounds/feels like to advocate for oneself in a math class and we will practice self-advocacy as we relearn how to use graphing calculators.
  • We will start our class with a chance for partners to explore the TI-84 and Desmos toCalculator readiness see what they already know using this document. Calculator readiness problems for Advanced Algebra During this time I will not help students.  I will ask them to rely on helping each other for 15-20 minutes.  (the goal is not to finish, just explore the calculator). I want to model right away that I am not the keeper of all knowledge – everyone in the class is someone students can go to for help.  During this time I will walk around and listen in and notice what students know and don’t know what to do with the calculator.  Most of my students have used a TI-84 before and Desmos is so intuitive making it so easy for students to use.  I will pay attention to what students know already (or figure out) so I can speed through the next part of my lesson (below).  I know some of you will look at what I am asking my students to do and say ‘Oh, my students know all of this.’.   My quesexampletion back to you is “Really? do they ALL know how to do all these things?”  I selected these problems because they represent things many students forget or may do wrong on a calculator.  Each problem has a mini message  I will give if students struggle.   For example in #4 a lot of students struggle with the difference between a negative sign and a subtraction sign on a calculator.  In #5 a ton of students don’t know how to make fractions on a calculator and if they do they get a solution of 55 for #5 forgetting about the implied parentheses in the numerator and the fact the calculator knows the order of operations.  I will not give these messages – yet  – after students have 15-20 minutes to explore with a partner – instead I will….
  • As a class we will take notes on my top 10 things for the TI-84 and my top 10 things for Desmos that they MUST know this school year in Advanced Algebra (many know most of these, but I am always surprised how many forget so many of these things each year).  I will make a big deal out of them pushing buttons or typing into Desmos as we go through each top 10 list.  I will make a big deal out of taking great notes so my students have something to reference back to if they forget what we cover today.  (Note:  We will staple or glue these lists into our notebooks front cover).  I will make a big deal out of (and model) how I want students to ask questions during this time if something does not make sense.  I will work to make students feel confident.  I will celebrate mistakes and questions as a valued part of our classroom.  Here is the students copy of the document:Top Ten Calculator Know_hows  (Note:  Our TI-84 top 10 is tried and tested, but our Desmos list is new.  We would love your feedback if you have ideas)
  • After going through each top 10 list we will go back to the problems students did during the explore time.  I will give solutions to each problem and have them go back and look at any they were unsure of.  We will practice self advocacy.
  • Our homework during these days is going to be the first of 9 parts of a year long social justice project we will do one part of in each unit.  The project is titled “How I see myself.  How the world sees me.”  In part one of the project students will create their first name in Desmos using only horizontal and vertical lines.  This will review equations of lines with students as well as Domain and Range.  We will be asking students to create the name they prefer most.  This HW is still a work in progress.  I will try and post it when it is complete.

The goals of using these top 10 lists is to do something mathy week 1 that is still ‘safe’ for students.  ‘Safe’ meaning they can talk out loud about math about something they do bring some skills to.  ‘Safe’ meaning it is something our student will feel OK asking for help in.  For some reason students feel safer asking about technology and not yet safe asking for help when they struggle solving a system of equation or some other skill they feel they should already have.  Week 1 is about practicing skills that will help us all during the rest of the school year.

Here are the documents we will use day 2 & 3 (again, they are also linked above):
I will link our HW/Project part 1 when we complete it here – Most likely around Sept 4th – feel free to remind me if I forget to do this.
This document is a list of some of the same ‘calculator readiness problems’ I used when teaching MS that I wrote up for teachers so they could see why I selected each problem.  We also used this as a way of prepping for our assessments.
Desmos Activity Builder has lots of things you could use to get to know their calculator.  Here is one they recently tweeted out as a good one for introducing things at the start of the year:  Introduction to Desmos: Letter Graphs from Jennifer White.
We also plan to do some number talks on Day 2 & 3 as well as continue to have all students learn each others names (as mentioned in this recent post about name tents).
As always.  I love hearing from you.  Tweet me your ideas @saravdwerf or comment below.  Have a great start to your school year.
Sara VanDerWerf

I am Sara Van Der Werf, a 24-year mathematics teacher in Minneapolis Public Schools. I have taught math in grades 7-12 as well as spent several years leading mathematics at the district office. I currently teach Advanced Algebra at South High School and I'm also the current President of the Minnesota Council of Teachers of Mathematics (MCTM). I am passionate about encouraging and connecting with mathematics teachers. I'd love to connect via twitter.  Join the community.  Tweet me @saravdwerf.

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