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For Math Teachers by Math Teachers

RUSMP Master Teachers share advice to get ready for the first day of school

August 13th, 2015 by Alice Fisher

The first day of school is just around the corner. RUSMP master teachers, Betsy Shipper, Julie Burnside,  and Kay Kubena, share ways to get ready for that first day.

betsy shipper resizedBetsy Shipper teaches sixth-grade mathematics at the River Oaks Baptist School. She writes:
It’s almost time for students to return. They are excited and so are the teachers. It’s always exciting to see my “teacher friends” and to visit with the students that pop in early to say hello.
The first thing that I like to do is to get my room ready. I always go shopping to get something “new” to put up. This year it was some fresh sparkle letters and border for a bulletin board.
Since I don’t yet know the students, I set up a random seating chart so that each student has “a special place in my room.” I make sure that all of my technology is working, my textbooks have stickers with the students’ names, and all materials are set and ready to go.

julie burnside resizedJulie Burnside teaches Geometry and AP Calculus at Bellaire High School in Houston ISD. She writes:
I like to spend time before the first day of school reflecting on the previous year and getting ready to implement new ideas and activities I’ve learned.
I first reread my students’ evaluations from the previous year. In these evaluations, they have told me what topics were easy for them and which ones were difficult. They have rated how useful techniques I’ve used were such as the interactive notebook. They have also told me if they enjoy mathematics more and if they feel their algebra skills have improved. Rereading these helps me keep fresh in my mind what worked and what didn’t.
The other task I do before each new year is to file away papers I have received at professional development or found along the way. I have a folder for each topic that I can then merge into my lesson plans when the time comes. It is so much easier to have this material broken down by topic and at your fingertips.
Getting ready for school is so much more than having that perfect looking classroom. It’s preparing your strategies and materials to have an even better year than the one before. I hope everyone has a wonderful school year!

kay kubenaKay Kubena teaches AP Statistics and Pre-AP Precalculus at Bellaire High School in Houston ISD. She writes:
No matter how many years that I have taught, I still have butterflies and have trouble sleeping the night before the first day of school. I am so excited to meet my new group! With good planning and careful lesson plan design, I know that my new school year will be fantastic!

5 steps to be ready for the first day of school:
   1. After all of the required meetings and trainings, the first order of business is to get my room set up and organized. I arrange my desks, decorate my walls, and setup my document camera. This is akin to clearing out the cobwebs and starting with everything fresh and clean! Once this is done, I can start working on the most important part of good teaching – I start PLANNING.
   2. Calendars and pacing guides come first. Sketch out a general plan for the year (you’ve got to know where you are going). Then, target the first six weeks. Refer to the standards to make sure all objectives are covered.
   3. Now the fun part! You know what you are teaching, now you can concentrate on the HOW. Check out Pinterest. Google for fun activities. Play with technology apps. Pick the brains of you colleagues and read some of the really fantastic teacher blogs that are out there. Now you are set to plan engaging lessons that meet your standards!
   4. Plan and rehearse your classroom routine in your head… again and again. When the bell rings for the first class, you will be more comfortable and relaxed. You will more likely to be consistent in your routines and better prepared for when activities do not go as planned. This is no different from an actor playing a part on stage or a quarterback on the football field. The more practice and planning, the better the outcomes will be!
   5. Love your kids! Stand at your door and greet them with a smile. Learn their names as quickly as possible. Consciously ask student questions about their lives outside of your class. Establishing rapport with your students will go far in creating an environment where learning flourishes.

RUSMP SCP Participants Build Relationships Vertically

July 6th, 2015 by Alice Fisher

RUSMP just completed its 29th annual Summer Campus Program! View photos of the program here. Eighty teacher participants were divided among 4 classes based on grade-level bands: Elementary, Intermediate, Middle School, and High School. Teachers spent the majority of their time with those in the same class. However, for the past 3 years including this one, teachers were given opportunities to interact with teachers from different grade levels. How?

Each teacher was assigned to one of twenty vertical teams, each team of 4 teachers consisting of a participant from every grade-level band. Team members were introduced to one another at the RUSMP SCP Math Summit held during the second day of the program on the Rice University campus. During the Math Summit, teachers discussed the Mathematical Process Standards that span Kindergarten through High School TEKS. The teams of teachers also set out on a mathematical quest outdoors to photograph objects around campus and create short videos discussing the mathematics at the different grade levels in their photos. Watch a short video of one of the vertical team’s ideas here.

2015 scp vertical teams photo

After the Math Summit, each vertical team was assigned to a book study discussion group for which they read messages from Cathy Seeley’s Faster Isn’t Smarter. Vertical teams took turns facilitating discussion for the different messages.

We conclude with a couple quotes from teacher participants about the vertical team experience:

“As a high school teacher, I am interested in understanding the challenges and successes they have achieved so I can gain better insight into my students and their past experiences through elementary, intermediate, and middle school. I really want to get a different perspective of teaching outside my little bubble of 9th grade Algebra. I was able to gain valuable tools from my fellow teachers in the lower grades that I can use in my classroom – after all, as much as students change as they get older, some things stay the same for our kids.”
– High school teacher

“I was fortunate to come to this program last year, and it was through my experience of working in vertical groups that I was enlightened. Working in vertical teams again allowed me to gain a deeper knowledge of of my content and teaching strategies of mathematics. I love learning from other teachers in my field because iron sharpens iron. I will again be able to take effective and successful ideas back to my campus that will benefit all the students in mathematics.”
– Intermediate teacher

Authentic mathematics instruction shapes our future leaders, collaborators, and problem-solvers

May 8th, 2015 by Alice Fisher

RUSMP Director of Elementary Programs, Carolyn White, facilitated a mathematics symposium for 4th- and 5th-grade students recently at Burrus Elementary School in HISD. Students were posed interesting math problems and collaborated in small groups to find solutions. They were encouraged to use critical thinking and reading skills in order to analyze the problems and shared strategies with one another.

Watch a short video of Ms. White with students during the event here.

Supporting Mathematics Instruction: Just-in-time Support for Mathematics Leaders

February 2nd, 2015 by Alice Fisher

RUSMP is holding the second session of a 2-day leadership seminar this week. The focus of the seminar is to provide mathematics leaders a framework to effectively support high-quality mathematics instruction and give them an opportunity to reflect and discuss best practices to this aim.

We pose two questions for participants in this course so that the overall RUSMP community can also take part in this critical discussion on how to best support mathematics instruction. We look forward to responses!

*As STAAR testing time approaches, how can leaders help teachers focus on teaching the curriculum and minimizing “test prep?”

*February is the time of year when instructional strategies need renewing in order to keep students engaged as spring break approaches. How might leaders help teachers to employ active learning strategies such as games, centers/stations, and cooperative learning to engage students in learning mathematics?

The institute is being facilitated by Carolyn White, RUSMP Director of Elementary Programs; Susan Troutman, Director of Secondary Programs; and Monica Kendall, former Houston ISD Director of Mathematics.

Below: Liz Goodman, Houston ISD and Elizabeth Bastias, Houston ISD

Doing Math Courtside: RUSMP Sums Things Up during Rice Basketball’s Pre-game Warm-up

December 20th, 2014 by Alice Fisher

By: Dr. Anne Papakonstantinou, Director of the Rice University School Mathematics Project











RUSMP and the Rice Athletics Department collaborated to provide fun and educative mathematics activities for 4,000 3rd- through 5th-grade students from local schools before the Rice men’s basketball game against St. Thomas University on December 18, 2014. The entire RUSMP team led activities for the students which included constructing giant polyhedra using large triangles and computing math problems inscribed on beach balls that were tossed among students in the audience. Students also participated in RUSMP’s famous math tour of the Rice campus virtually. During the tour, students calculated the age of William Marsh Rice, the university’s founder, at his death. They also described geometric shapes and noted symmetries across the Rice campus. Viewing concentric circles provided an opportunity to expand students’ mathematics vocabulary. Towards the end of the tour, students calculated the number of eyes, beaks, and talons of the three owlets pictured in a popular photo taken by Rice’s Tommy LaVergne.

Mathematics has been at the center of the university since its beginning. Edgar Odell Lovett, a mathematician from Princeton University, was named the first president in 1907. The academic program emphasized mathematics and science supported by humanities from its start. In fact, the very first Ph.D. that was awarded was in mathematics to Hubert Bray who remained to become a mathematics professor at Rice. The first graduating class touted a female mathematician, Lel Red, who went on to become an outstanding mathematics teacher.

RUSMP promotes Rice University’s excellence beyond the hedges in PreK-12 education providing support to precollege institutions across the state. It continues to be the primary catalyst of sustained, progressive change in mathematics education in Houston-area schools and across Texas with its numerous programs for mathematics leaders, teachers, and students and its support to schools and school districts. The December 18th event in Autry court is the latest collaboration to bring mathematics from Rice University to Houston-area students.

Watch a short video of the exciting event below.

Mathematics Transforms Hirsch Elementary School

December 9th, 2014 by Alice Fisher

Wednesday evenings during the 2014 fall semester, the faculty at Hirsch Elementary School in the Spring Independent School District gathered in the school’s library for the popular RUSMP course “Exploring Algebraic Reasoning in the Revised Elementary School Mathematics TEKS.” Hirsch is a neighborhood school with a very diverse population of students (39% Hispanic, 32% African-American, 27% Caucasian) and with 75% of students on free or reduced lunch.

“Changes in the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) place more emphasis on algebraic reasoning through the lens of number” according to Carolyn White, RUSMP Director of Elementary Programs. Teachers across the state are concerned about the increased number of questions on the STAAR on teaching standards that previously had not be taught at their grade levels.

Principal Roosevelt Wilson, a past participant of the RUSMP Summer Campus Program, expressed this concern and approached RUSMP to offer this course for his faculty. A believer in supporting the community of practice at his school over shared experiences in mathematics prompted Wilson to make this request. When asked about his role as instructional leader, Wilson responded that “The thing I have to concentrate on is enabling teachers to become exemplary teachers. And the only way to do that is to give them room to grow, to make mistakes, give them some autonomy within this structure we created, so they can truly be the best them that they can be.” Watch part of an interview with Roosevelt Wilson to learn more about his views on instructional leadership.

Veteran RUSMP master teachers, Karen Hardin and Linda Jensen, facilitated the professional development sessions which had teachers investigating the revised TEKS for algebra; constructing fractions and using different models such as area, length, or set model in problem solving situations; using different strategies for multiplication and division and applying them to problem solving situations; modeling decimals concretely and pictorially and using them in problems solving situations; and using equations and inequalities to express relationships between two quantities. Teachers received a plethora of resources to use with their students. Watch the video below to witness the enthusiasm and energy of the teachers at Hirsch Elementary School.

Algebra is the key to Texans quarterback’s son’s brilliance!

December 2nd, 2014 by Alice Fisher

As both a football fan and mathematics educator, I was not only thrilled by the Texans’ win against the Tennessee Titans this past Sunday, but also just as thrilled to watch a post-game news conference during which Houston quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick, asked his 8-year old son to perform mental math. Fitzpatrick asked a reporter to give his son, Brady, two numbers between 90 and 99 inclusive.  After Brady successfully multiplied the numbers 93 and 97 in his head in a matter of seconds, the proud father yelled, “Boom!” Watch the video here.

A couple of posts have already discussed the trick including this one from the Houston Chronicle. There are a couple versions of the trick, but one version goes like this:

Let’s use the two numbers that Brady was given to multiply as an example:  93 and 97.

1. First, subtract each number from 100:
100 – 93 = 7
100 – 97 = 3

2. To get the first two digits of the product of 93 and 97, find the sum of the two differences from step 1 — in this case, 10 — and subtract the sum from 100: 100 – 10 = 90

3. To get the last two digits of the product of 93 and 97, multiply the differences from step 1: 7 × 3 = 21

4. We now have all four digits of the product: 9021

The question remains…why does this trick work?

We challenge you and your students to think about this question and ask you to either post a response or email me at afisher@rice.edu. If you need a hint, let me know at the same email address.

And thank you, Ryan Fitzpatrick, for highlighting the academic achievement of your son! Well-played!

The Klein ISD Divas

October 28th, 2014 by Alice Fisher

There were 72 teachers who attended the fractions workshop for grades 3-5 teachers that was presented by the Klein ISD “Divas” earlier this fall. The Klein Divas are teacher participants in the 2014 RUSMP Summer Campus Program (SCP) who were asked by Klein ISD administrators to share what they learned during the program. It is clear that they have not only become professional collaborators, but also “Rice sisters” through attending the intense 3-week program together.

The teachers – Huong Ngo, Kristy Morris, Wilma Mysak, Whitney Wulf, and Linda Hope – led a full session that began with looking closely at changes in the Student Expectations across the revised Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for grades 3-5. They shared online resources including the RUSMP website, and then dived into 9 different hands-on activities using manipulatives such as color tiles and dominoes. They also led activities that integrate mathematics and art such as creating fraction quilts and game boards.

They purposefully planned the workshop so that the grades 3-5 teachers were together in a large group.  This allowed third grade teachers to see where the students are going while fifth grade teachers could see where the students are coming from.

Wilma Mysak coined the phrase “Klein Divas” when they were publicizing the professional development session so that now the group is known by that name. They shared that it made a huge positive difference to attend the Summer Campus Program as a team.

Watch the video of the interview with the fabulous Klein Divas!

RUSMP Teacher Spotlight: Wilkie Law at Stehlik Intermediate School (Aldine ISD)

September 30th, 2014 by Alice Fisher

A student teacher observed Mr. Law’s classroom, and told him afterwards, “You can tell the kids really like being in your classroom.” Wilkie Law responded, “I think the paramount thing in the classroom is building relationships because you can teach a kid anything. But whether or not they retain it depends on their relationship with you because the relationship gauges the importance of what you’re teaching them.” Wilkie lives by this belief and spends the first two weeks of school finding out nicknames, what the students do at home, whether or not they like sports, who likes to debate. Watch Mr. Law and his students in his sixth-grade mathematics classroom and see how he builds relationships with his students.

Wilkie has been at Stehlik Intermediate School in Aldine ISD for 7 years and worked his way up the ranks. He began as a paraprofessional at the Nimitz 9th grade center, and his principal at the time encouraged him to get his teacher’s certification because Wilkie had such a good rapport with the students. He then got certified in special education and worked as an inclusion teacher for over a year, after which he was offered to teach in his own classroom as a full-time mathematics teacher. Wilkie jumped at the opportunity, and a couple years later, he also became the G/T teacher.

Mr. Law attended the RUSMP Summer Campus Program (SCP) during the summers of 2013 and 2014. When I asked him about the impact that RUSMP had on his teaching, he responded, “I know without a shadow of a doubt it has made me a better teacher. The stats speak for themselves.  When I look at my students’ performance, I see that I’m a much more effective teacher.”  Listen to Wilkie discuss the impact of RUSMP and the “thread” he was given at RUSMP that tied everything together so that now he feels like he can be a leader on his campus.

When you talk to Wilkie Law, it is apparent that he is a natural leader, and that both students and adults are drawn to and inspired by him. One of the things he likes to chant at school is “TGIM” (Thank God It’s Monday!) instead of “TGIF.”  After the first year of attending the RUSMP SCP, he was asked to be the sixth-grade team leader.  Recently, he was asked to present sessions at the new teacher induction for his district.  Listen to Mr. Law as he reflects about his new leadership roles.

Mr. Law’s decision to teach sixth grade was based on his personal experiences when he was in school. Listen to him share his poignant story about why he dropped out of school during sixth grade, and then came back to succeed during his second year of 6th grade, and how that experience shaped the type of teacher he is today.

After visiting his classroom, one phrase in my mind is “TGIW!” Thank goodness it’s Wilkie! Thank you, Wilkie for sharing your knowledge, enthusiasm, and understanding with not only your students, but also your colleagues.

How much money will you save buying a more fuel-efficient car? Use Algebra!

September 2nd, 2014 by Alice Fisher

How much money will I save buying a more fuel-efficient car? This seems like a common question when in the midst of purchasing a car, yet this question is more interesting mathematically than meets the eye.

A few weeks ago, my husband John and I were debating between buying a Honda Pilot and a Honda CR-V.  John was pulling for the more powerful Pilot (on the left) while I was leaning towards the smaller CR-V (on the right).

While I was test driving the CR-V, my husband asked the car salesman  how the gas mileages of the two cars  compared . We were informed that the CR-V’s gas mileage is 22 miles per gallon (mpg) for city driving and 30 mpg for highway driving; the Pilot is 17 city and 24 highway. Then we proceeded to figure out how much money would we save if we bought a CR-V.  Since we were buying a car for me and I drive about 75% of my miles on city roads, we estimated that the average gas mileage for a CR-V is about 24 mpg and Pilot is about 19 mpg.  An explanation on how to precisely compute the average gas mileage given the city and highway mileage and percent of miles driven on each type is given here.

At this point, things got interesting. I was test-driving an unfamiliar car so that my math wheels were not spinning properly during this mathematical conversation.   In the meanwhile, both John and the car salesman insisted that since the CR-V’s gas mileage is 5 less than the Pilot’s gas mileage, that 5 mpg difference, in addition to the  number of miles driven in a year and cost of gasoline are the only numbers needed to calculate the difference in annual gas costs between the two cars.

This conclusion didn’t feel right to me, but I didn’t have the mathematical justification at hand since my hands were busy steering a car that did not belong to me.  So once I had a paper and pencil in hand, I started working out the problem.  If you have a minute, I invite you to work it out as well.

Suppose we drive 12,000 miles per year and car A uses x miles per gallon and car B uses (x+5) miles per gallon. Then car A uses [12,000/x] gallons per year while car B uses [12,000/(x+5)] gallons per year.  Thus, the annual cost of gas for car A, y, is calculated as y = [($/gallon)*(12,000/x) gallons] dollars while  the annual gas cost for car B, z,  is z = {($/gallon)*[12,000/(x+5)] gallons} dollars.  When you simplify difference in costs, (y-z), in terms of x, the result is ($/gallon)*12000*5/(x^2+5x) or:

[($/gallon)(number of miles driven in a year)(5)]/(x^2+ 5x) dollars.

Examining this algebraic expression, we see that the difference in costs not only depends on the difference in gas mileages, but also on the gas mileages of the 2 cars.  The higher the gas mileage of the 2 cars, the less the savings are between the 2 cars, even if the difference in gas mileage remains 5!

Driving a CR-V instead of a Pilot would save us about $500 this year assuming that I drive 12,000 miles this year.  However, if we had been  choosing between a Toyota Prius (about 49 mpg) and a Honda Civic Hybrid (about 44 mpg), we would have saved only about $100 per year with the same parameters even though the difference in gas mileage is about 5 mpg.

You can calculate the savings per year at the following website: http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/findacar.shtml  However, you don’t truly appreciate the mathematical relationship until you’ve worked out the algebraic expressions.

Conclusion: My husband and I ended up buying the CR-V because as our car salesman wisely reminded us, “Happy wife, happy life.”

Coming next: Creating a program that will calculate the gas savings choosing a more fuel-efficient car.