Capturing the engagement of the meme

So, using, students and teachers can quite easily make memes.

Memes are one of those things… they play right into our culture’s preferences for communicating. They’ve got the visual component. Often there’s humor. There isn’t a huge time commitment to either write them or read them or share them.

math meme #1.png

The convey a ton of meaning with very few words, which is something that will appeal to our students as well.

math meme #2.png

And, like any effective tool for communication, it has some best practices and strategies and uses that are more effective than others. But because the meme is such a ubiquitous style, the students can chime in on developing and generalizing those.

Memes have something that other pictures-and-word combos don’t have. Consider this…

math meme #4.jpg

… which a student could create and is accurate.

But, could it be that we could take advantage of this medium by producing something like this?

math meme #5.JPG

No, it’s not a sure bet. TV is engaging. School on TV has not proved to be. Math class hasn’t dealt with its basic engagement struggles simply because is has put resources on the internet. And quite frankly, meme are often engaging because they are making fun of someone or sarcastically highlighting a frustration. So, by converting them into a math vocabulary tool, we will pull the shine off of them real quick.

But that doesn’t mean that we can’t pay attention to the fact that pop culture has stumbled on a low-cost, highly-transferable, and easily shareable method of communication that also comes with a high degree of familiarity to both the students and teachers.

Do you use student-made memes in your class? I would like to hear how you use them.


Proofs (and writing) are difficult

The moment I started to have success helping student really learn how to write proof in geometry was the moment I realized that”The Proof” is nothing more than a persuasive essay converted to math class. It’s disciplinary literacy. And thinking of them as mathy-style essays can help us isolate some of the reasons the students struggle with proof in general. My experience leads me to think that many of the struggles are the same the ones the students experience with writing outside of math class. They don’t understand the structure, they don’t appreciate the value of honoring their target audience, and they don’t understand the content well enough.

Luckily for us, the ELA department has often hit those three points really hard. As math teachers, we just need to help the students bridge the gap.

What’s the structure to an essay? Thesis, supporting paragraphs, conclusion. Or, in math, “Given angle a is congruent to b, I’ll prove that segment a is congruent to segment b. Here’s the evidence I’m using to support my claim. And here’s what I just proved.”

Who’s the target audience? In math, it’s often either someone who doesn’t understand or someone who disagrees with you. That explains why you need to back up each statement with theorem, definition, or previously proven statement. Take nothing for granted or you’ll lose your reader.

And as for content? Well, have you ever read an essay from someone who plain ol’ doesn’t know what they are talking about? The best structure in the world isn’t going to save them if they can’t define the words they are trying to use.

So, when it comes to proof-writing, I think we math teachers need to appreciate that “writing” really is at the core of it, and the better we make that connection explicit to our proof-learning students, the more likely they are to be successful. And perhaps there’s a role for some meaning collaboration between high school math and ELA departments.

And with that, enjoy the latest “Instructional Tech in Under 3 Minutes” discussing, of all things, writing.

A word about teaching to the test…

It’s testing season here in Michigan, the dawn of a new age! Last fall’s paper and pencil MEAP is replaced with the this spring’s computer-driven M-Step.

And the M-Step is putting a lot of pressure on districts to reconsider what “test readiness” even means. What skills are required of a student who is having to transition from a question like this:

MEAP Grade 8 Practice

to something like this?

MStep Practice Grade 8

The “Performance Task” is another new type of test item. Teachers lead a scripted discussion through a content exploration. Students get time to discuss, explore, ask questions. Then they go off to answer a question based on the experience they just had. This all combines to create a startling amount of new experiences all in the same year.

Preparing educators for this newness was a large chunk of my work as my colleagues and I provided workshops to help explore this testing experience that is new for all of our students. As I had discussions with genuinely and appropriately concerned teachers and administrators, there were a few recurring concerns that bubbled to the surface.

1. What if a student knows the right answer, but has computer/technical skills that prohibit him/her from answering that question correctly (or in a reasonable amount of time)?

2. How are the non-traditional items going to be graded? (Non-traditional… rubric scored items, items with more than one correct answer, the drag-n-drop question like the number line one above, etc.)

Certainly there were lots of other concerns, but these two kept coming back again and again with good reason. We want to make sure that our students are getting recognized for the knowledge and skill they possess. This new test presents a new set of potential barriers.

So, how do you get around those barriers? Well, one way is to teach to the test.

“Teaching to the test” as a phrase is usually not seen as a good thing. Although, I can remember a conversation with a district leader a while back who was quite proud of the fact that curriculum decisions for their math department were based almost solely on what was on the ACT… he refrained from using the term “teaching-to-the-test”.

This pride fits in with recent statement from a colleague. “Teaching to the test is only a bad thing if the test is no good.”

Now, that having been said, there are a lot of people right now in Michigan who are feeling like the M-Step is no good and they might be right. As I write this, we’ve just completed our second day of testing, so I’m going to reserve judgement until we’re more than 48 hours into this new experience.

But regardless, that sample question from above…

MStep Practice Grade 8

… isn’t a ridiculous question. It lends itself to considering if teaching strategically in such a way that students could do that (which is motivated primarily by the fact that a high-stakes, state-level standardized summative assessment is going to ask them to do it) is a bad thing? I would suggest that this is a task that most 8th grade math teachers would want their students to be able to do. Where the conflict arises is when teachers or districts aren’t inclined (or able) to provide exploration or assessment of this skill in a computerized way. The test becomes a motivation to have to change course. So we find ourselves faced with “teaching to the test.”

So, if we’re going to be “teaching to the test” anyway, what situations can we design for our students that while we are probably only doing ten because they will be on the test, are still, in the end, high-quality experiences for the students to have?

One suggestion comes out of this blog post from Fawn Nguyen who is trying to help the students interpret a scoring rubric. That was one of her goals, because her second goal was to help the students focus on a set of skills they will need to be successful on the test they are going to take in May.

The skills she’s referring to: “For them to attend to the same thoroughness and precision in their own solution writing when it’s their turn…”

While Ms. Nguyen is openly “teaching to the test”, that skill she’s highlighting is a valuable one. I encourage you to read the post. The tone of it doesn’t sound like someone who begrudgingly throws test prep items at her students, but rather a teacher who saw an opportunity to weave test prep into an experience that ultimately led to student feedback like this:

I believe this was helpful because when I take the test, I will be more aware of the questions and what is expected of me. I will make sure to always back up my answers with evidence.

I’ve talked to a lot of teachers (math, ELA, social studies) who’ve expressed frustration that their students won’t “always back up their answers with evidence”. Ms. Nguyen provides us an example of how a test prep experience can be used to further broader goals.

And I think, in the end, given the stress and strain that these testing situations put on all of us, it’s nice to see an example that reminds us that teachers still have ability to make decisions that end up as net positives for our students.

Why do we collect student work?




For a couple reasons, I’m sure. Here’s one of mine: to turn it around and let them see it.

Best Proof Snip


“Here are four proofs written by your classmates. Which of them is the best? Why? Which of them comes in second place? What would the second place proof need to change in order to tie for first?”


Such good conversations arise when students explore decent examples of their own work compared to their classmates. And they don’t have to be time-consuming. If the work suits it, you could create a 5-minute opener comparing just two pieces of work. It can be a wonderful way for a student to recognize his/her own mistakes without me, as teacher, having to reveal them. Such recognition is a wonderful evidence of internalization of the content… real learning that can be used to solve problems.


Why do you collect student work?


Student Blogging: Off and Running

After the encouragement of a few folks (among them, Hedge (@approx_normal), Zach (@z_cress), and Jennifer (@RealJMcCreight)), I decided to move forward with my admittedly medium-rare idea to have a class start a blogging community. I needed their encouragement because I hadn’t ever SEEN anything like this done before in math class. I’ve seen examples at the elementary level. I’ve heard about English teachers doing this, but the benefits of active engagement in a blogging community to a class of math students was purely hypothetical.

So, with that in mind, I decided to leap (and then look at where I was once I landed.)


I decided to leap…

I sold it to them in this spirit: Algebra II is the last math class that Michigan specifically requires high school students to successfully complete in order to graduate. That makes Algebra II the series finale. This is the last season. A sitcom that they have been watching daily since 2004 begins it’s final season this fall. They have spent more than a decade learning different kinds of mathematics and Algebra II is where we show off how it all fits together. We are able to reveal where it was all leading.

The blog acts as an extension of that. If they are going to take anything of value from the dozen years of math we lead them through, they are going to have to internalize their experiences. The blog is going to give them an opportunity to make visible a portion of that internalization.

Here are the structures I am using:

I am requiring a single post per week, along with a single meaningful comment on another person’s blog per week. A post should be between 150-500 words (because they asked). This is designed to enter them into the world that I know exists for more bloggers than just me. That is, becoming observant of the world around you thinking what you might write about. (The first topic I asked them to write about was the most enjoyable math-related experience they can recall in math class.)

They are required to follow all of their classmates’ blogs. This ensures that their WordPress homepage readers are displaying recent posts.

I have a rubric that I will be following to hold student’s accountable for actively participating in the blogging community.


Already, this has allowed us to consider a variety of different relevant topics that are not normally relevant to a math classroom, but are darned interesting to talk about. The value of pictures and story-telling in conveying meaning, the consideration of audience, the use of images and movie clips, digital citizenship, etc.

It has worked to make the class more holistic, which needed to happen if we are really going to take the series finale approach to this course. There’s value in that because the last 10 years of math class haven’t just been about math content. They’ve been about math habits, problem-solving techniques, specific tools, vocabulary, and a variety of technology. To focus purely on content would be to miss an opportunity to help them make sense of all of those experiences.

And to solidify those things is to provide a springboard to launch the students into an opportunity for spin-offs once this required Michigan math series has reached its conclusion.

Here are the handouts I used to introduce the blogging community to the students. None of these handouts stood alone. All of them were given as part of a large-group question-and-answer session, so keep that in mind as you read them and notice details left somewhat vague.

Handout 1

Handout 2

Handout 3