cheesemonkey wonders

cheesemonkey wonders

Friday, August 3, 2012

#made4math | Words into Math - Taming Troublesome Phrases with an interactive foldable translator

It's been busy here in the Intergalactic Cheesemonkeysf R&D Laboratories
(see trusty assistant hard at work, right). Ever since Twitter Math Camp 12, I've been working on implementing all the lessons and activities I learned about in person from my fabulous math teacher tweeps!

I'm using the Interactive Notebook structure that Megan Golding-Hayes showed us, and I'm also incorporating a lot of Julie Reulbach's foldables. The most helpful insight (out of many) I received from Julie was the idea of using a foldable as a way of getting kids to SLOW DOWN and trust the steps of the process as they're working on word problems. So I've made a nifty little foldable like hers that will go into an INB pocket the first week and will be usable on all quizzes and tests.

One of the reasons I like having students develop tools they can use on tests is that many of the discouraged math learners just don't trust their own learning. They have a habit of "collapsing" when they encounter a first speed bump. So from the perspective of encouraging students' courage in problem-solving, it is good to allow them to have tools they can use, even if the tools are sometimes nothing more than a security blanket — a talisman or a good-luck charm they can touch as a tangible reminder of their own courage and resourcefulness. So a four-step problem-solving foldable serves double duty: it acts both as a checklist (as in Atul Gawande's New Yorker piece and book) and as a reminder to have courage and perseverance in working through problems.

However many students have a habit of either not using the tools or finding the tools too complicated or frustrating. Nowhere has this been more evident than when I've given them approved lists of words and phrases they should stop, consider, and look up if need be. The charts and lists seem to turn into giant floating word clouds that signify nothing. So I wanted to come up with a slightly more interactive than usual foldable that students could use as a way of isolating and decoding some of the most troublesome words and phrases they get hung up on. Not only does it slow them down, it gives them a focal task that redirects an anxious mind.

After a lot of research on both blogs and on Pinterest ("PINTEREST!" #drinkinggame), I came up with the idea of a folded sleeve with a sliding chart insert, containing the phrases that often confuse kids or cause them to second-guess their translations from words into math. Here's what the finished product looks like:

Here is a close-up:

I used OmniGraffle to make the sleeve template and I used Pages, Preview, and Adobe Acrobat to make the insert. I'm linking to the Troublesome Phrase Translator sleeve, a generic sleeve you can customize for your own fiendish purposes, and a PDF of my exact insert (Troublesome Phrase Translator INSERT). 

If you want to make your own inserts, you'll need to set up your own table (Word, Pages, Excel, etc) making sure that your row height is exactly 1/4 inch. Your LHS cells should be 1 9/16" wide and your RHS cells should be 1/2 inch wide. You can have about 19 or 20 rows, depending on what you put in them.

Sometimes a little magical thinking is just the thing to displace a discouraged learner's anxiety (or freaked-out-ness) for that extra second it might take to recommit to the process of solving a problem. If that helps me hang onto just one extra student a day, it's a win. But usually I find that a tool like this will encourage multiple students to encourage each other's confidence as well, which is an even bigger win in my book!


  1. This is seriously awesome! I am going to have to use this type of foldable for something this year!

  2. Loooooooove. Interactive notebooks are going to be on my list of things to do for next year. Going to try some foldables this year, though! This one definitely makes the list! :)

  3. Wow! Incredibly gangsta! Those verbal translations always prove to be a beast. Add some VEGAS sound effects when sliding from one phrase to another and you have engagement. Awesome!

  4. Oh my goodness! I just love this slider! My MS students would flip for this!! :)

  5. Awesome foldable! What a great way to review!!!

  6. I love this! I bet you could even turn it into a review type activity if you had another opening on the back and put the word expression on the front and the algebraic expression on the back. I think this is definitely something I'll be stealing! Thank you!

    1. @druinok - This is a fantastic idea! I think I will use this structure this week for reviewing rules of exponents and radicals. :)

      - @cheesemonkeysf

  7. Whoa! This is GREAT!! Thanks so much for the idea.

  8. I tried this with cardstock for the slider and it was too stiff- hard to cut and fold. I love this idea so much but I think I would like to make it bigger. Thanks for the fantastic idea!

  9. what a great idea! Thanks for sharing!
    Hodges Herald

  10. Oooh - I love this!! My Algebra 1 kids always struggle with translations. Can't wait to try this!

  11. I love this!! I modified this to be used on with the cricut so you do not have to cut!

  12. Beyond great!! Thanks for sharing!

  13. Wow. This is some thing very amazing. I was in search of such a beautiful writing. Awesome plot and ends very in very simple way. Thank you.
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