What Do I Do?

Monday is our last instructional day and kind of a problem child.  For reasons I can’t quite pinpoint, more final review seems out of the question.  I know we’ll discuss the weighting of their final grade and why, at 10%, they shouldn’t stress about this dumb show-to-us-all-over-ag’in test.  So what do I do with the hour?  If I hadn’t already blown the activity Rich pitched me it’d be perfect here: tactile, fun, self-contained, age inclusive.

Got anything like that to share?

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. SYNTHESIS! – have ’em write essays on what they’ve learned. Rather than a “What I Did with My Summer Vacation” write-up, they can script a “What I Did in Mr. Meyer’s Math Class” essay. Fail ’em on the spot if they can’t – in proper English – identify at least seven different concepts. At least give em a D. Math w/o English knows naught.

  2. I feel like I need some sort of standardized disclaimer for when one of my known accomplices swings by, probably wasted on dollar pints, just to shake this place up with nonsense. Anyway, pay the unemployable rhetoric major no regard.

  3. I have a question, being a relatively new teacher. After you break a course down into the concepts you are teaching, whether it is a middle school math class or Algebra or higher, how do you help the students retain the information?

    I’ll swear that the students have a memory dump as soon as we take a test!

    It seems to me that my making a review sheet doesn’t help them to learn it. They don’t seem to be able to write down notes from the board or hang on to any sheet of paper longer than 5 minutes. I put at least one problem on each test – and on the warm ups – from material we already covered – then they act like they’ve never seen something that we spent weeks covering.


  4. I don’t know if this is your sort of thing, but I mentioned a little while ago that I have used the “Missionaries and Cannibals” problem as an opener each year…. My middle schoolers jump all over it, even if only about 2-3 of them figure it out on the first day each year (I leave everyone else hanging until the following class). We do it in small groups or with seat partners. After a little while of letting them work completely independently, I offer some colored tiles/chips to use as they reason through it. Again, I’ve never tried this with high school students so I don’t know how it would go over, but my folks really love it (and since we do it the first day of school, anytime I refer to it later in the year they really perk up).

    I recall that you have a fairly long class period so I don’t know if this would suit the entire timeframe, but it would easily work for 30-40 minutes.

  5. The Cannibals and Missionaries reminds me of a problem my kids have always enjoyed. I, of course, can’t get the problem for you since I’m out of school and the problem is at school but it goes something like this.

    A queen, her daughter, her son and a cannonball are in a tower. They can escape by using a pulley system and a large basket. Each person/item has a specific weight. The Queen weighs 200 lbs., the cannonball weighs 50 lbs, the daughter weighs 135 (?) and the son weighs 185 (?)…..

    OK, after racking my brain for the correct weights I decided to search the internet for the problem and Eureka!! I found it.

    An elderly queen, her daughter, and little son, weighing 195, 105, and 90 pounds respectively, were kept prisoners at the top of a high tower. The only communication with the ground was a cord passing over a pulley with a basket at each end, and so arranged that when one basket rested on the ground, the other was opposite the window. Naturally, if the top one were more heavily loaded than the bottom, it would descend; but if the excess weight on either side was more than 15 pounds, the descent became so rapid as to be dangerous. From the position of the rope, the captives could not slow it with their hands. The only thing available to help them in the tower was a cannonball weighing 75 pounds. They nonetheless contrived to escape. How did they do it?

    We used a worksheet of a dozen diagrams of the pulley and rope and two blanks –UP and DOWN.

    Here’s a story about a guy who decided to program the solution—http://www.delphiforfun.org/Programs/castle_escape.htm

  6. Thanks for the suggestions, Nancy and Rich, which I’ll have to file away for next year. Monday, our last day together as a reg’lar class, has to be academically low-impact. No real justification for that; I just can’t introduce another brain teaser and call it “fun” like I could during the rest of the year.

    Pretty sure that on this dumb last day the bar has been set higher than ever before.

    Mary Ann, spiral, spiral, spiral, is the best I have. I regularly pull old concepts into the assessment rotation. I also notice that as I teach material better, drawing stronger connections to other concepts and old skills, the faster the re-up time is when we’re reviewing it. It’s still a problem, though, so good luck.

  7. OK, so if I understand then you want something even “softer” than a brain teaser? How about watching an episode of NUMB3RS online? You have that projector (and I assume some way to amplify audio also), and you can get the last four episodes of the program from CBS’s website. I had never watched it before this year, but for some (odd) reason I picked up the first season on DVD (the third season is now ending). My kids LOVE watching it; we’ve watched 2-3 episodes over the past year — the last day before Christmas break, as a reward for who-knows-what after a quiz, etc.

  8. Actually, hold that thought – you can drop $1.99 and download a full episode on iTunes and get a much cleaner view than what you’d get streaming off CBS’s website (and no issues with buffering). My personal suggestion is to go to Season 1 and try an episode like “Vector” or “Uncertainty Principle.” If you watch the show yourself, then ignore my editorial comments, but I feel that they’ve added in more running plot lines in the most recent season, and the first season didn’t presume that we knew too much about the various characters. The math shines through in all its glory, but isn’t off-putting.

    If you think it goes over well, be aware that there is a whole set of resources that tags along with each episode of the show, sponsored by Texas Instruments. The mathematical concepts tend to get a wee bit deep on the show, so they’re closer to your guys (high school) than mine (middle). I know that that’s not what you’re shooting for next Monday, but it might be worth something for next year.

    p.s. If you do watch “Vector,” you’ll catch a rare glimpse of Dwight Schrute in a dramatic role.

  9. Hm, I’d go the iTunes route, but I seem to have found myself in possession of some high-definition DIVX video files from the first season. Dear CBS: I have no idea how that happened.