Category Archives: Athena High Best Practices

Updated Numb3rs Activities


In my math classes, I integrate the television show Numb3rs into my instruction to motivate and connect the students to real world mathematical concepts.  Numb3rs, a TV series that was on the CBS network for six seasons, is about an FBI agent and his mathematical brother who use math to solve crimes.  I have several activities that I have created for the various math courses that I have taught (I also included Simpsons and Goonies activities):

Unit 1+2 (intro to proofs) – NUMB3RS – Mind Games

Unit 3 (parallel lines) – Numb3rs – uncert principle

Unit 5 (transformations) – Numb3rs – graphic

Unit 6 (coordinate geometry) – Numb3rs – one hour

Unit 7 (various geometry topics) – Goonies Activity

Unit 7 (constructions & concurrency) – Numb3rs – burn rate

Unit 8 (solids) – Simpsons – 3d Homer

Unit 9 (logic) – Numb3rs – money for nothing

Unit 10 (circles) – Numb3rs – cause and effect

Numb3rs (scatterplots) – Sniper Zero (math 8)

GEO – Tri Proofs – NUMB3RS – Primacy

GEO – Coord Geo – NUMB3RS – Serial Rapist Hot Zone

ALG – Inequalities – Numb3rs – Blackout

GEO – Quads+Par – backscatter

ALG – Poly – Numb3rs – Janus List

ALG – Equ – Numb3rs – Hardball

*Geometry is the Regents level New York State course that most 10th graders are expected to take.  Algebra/Geometry Connections is a course preparing students to be successful in Geometry.

A typical Numb3rs Activity follows the following format:

20 minutes: students watch the first half of episode
5-10 minutes: class discussion of the mathematical ideas in show
30 minutes: activity worksheet completed in cooperative groups
20 minutes: students watch the second half of episode
10 minutes: class discussion of activity

Click here for the template that you can give to students during the episode to help facilitate conversations.

Not only are students watching an attention-grabbing crime show, they are actively engaged in mathematical thought for 40 minutes.  During the show, they are expected to write down mathematical ideas discussed in the show to share out later in class using this template.  The activity worksheet is completed in cooperative groups; students work together to discuss the math involved in the episode and connect it to the Regents topics that are currently being studied.

The integration of these activities has greatly impacted student engagement and learning in my classroom.  Students are more excited about coming to math class than they have in the past and their attendance has increased as a result.  In addition, my Algebra/Geometry Connections classes went from a 56% passing rate on the Algebra Regents Exam to a 91% passing rate.  I contribute this increase in part from the Numb3rs Activities.  My students have stated that this motivational lesson helps them to pay attention and learn topics that they may not have shown any interest about in the past.

Feel free to use any of these activities in your classrooms.  Please send me any questions or comments.

Intermediate Algebra Castle Learning Review Activity

Mrs. Magin, Mrs. Lagana, Mrs. O’Brien, Mrs. DiVirgilio, and Mrs. Benz engaged their Intermediate Algebra students in a review lesson on Castle Learning.  Students worked hard on finishing 12 multiple choice and 3 short answer problems that helped them to prepare for their final exams.  For more information on Castle Learning, visit

Well done teachers and students!

Data-Driven Decision Making–High School Math Elective

Last year, the Athena High School Math Department introduced a new and exciting elective titled “Data-Driven Decision Making.”  This elective, now in its second year, combines statistics and practical application of real life decisions.  The course description reads:

“Students will study mathematical topics associated with decision making through the collection and interpretation of relevant data.  This course is designed to improve personal and professional decisions by presenting a practical framework that can be used to make better and smarter choices.  Students will have the opportunity to perform a decision making analysis incorporating several statistical methods and techniques.”

The student objectives are:  to improve their personal and professional decision making, learn to analyze data and use methods of statistical inference, prepare for college level mathematics, and expand their experience with technology and giving presentations.  The “textbook” for the course is Hammond, Keeney, and Raiffa’s (1999) Smart choices: A practical guide to making better decisions.  The course uses the decision framework presented in this book, along with some additions from Mr. Ingerick and I.  Some sample student project problem statements include the following:

  • What should I do after high school?
  • What is the best way to save money for college?
  • I need transportation for work.
  • Where should I live next year?

The decision making framework used for this class is shown below.  I believe that this is one of the best high school electives that you could offer to students.  Please leave any comments below.

Athena High Math Department is Online

The Athena High School Math Department is online!  Click on the link below to see this amazing group of educators!

Trojan Pride!

Differentiated Circle Geometry Lesson Video

Lisa Gross and Monica O’Brien co-taught an engaging review lesson for a Geometry unit on Circles.  In this lesson, Gross and O’Brien differentiate using a combination of the parallel and alternative models of co-teaching.  Students were grouped based upon their most recent formative assessment.  The groups were as follows: an independent Castle Learning group, a mostly independent worksheet group, a guided worksheet group, and a highly guided worksheet group.  The guided groups were assisted by Mrs. O’Brien and a student in the class who has mastered the material.  Mrs. Gross rotated throughout all groups to ensure high quality work and to answer questions that came up.

A video summary of this highly engaging differentiated lesson is below:

Math PLC Reflects on the RtI Process

After reading Response to Intervention: The future for Secondary Schools by Canter, Klotz, and Cowan, (2008) the Athena High School Math Department’s professional learning community (PLC) discussed and reflected on the RtI process and the current reality of our school.

A couple most valuable points (MVPs) were important to the group.  First, parent support and involvement is critical.  So often parents are not engaged in the learning of their children for different reasons.  Parents should be invited to information sessions and included on advisory councils to provide input into the design of the RtI program.

A second MVP is that Athena should build our RtI model in a realistic time line.  Often times educators jump into something without addressing specifics.  If something sounds good, we try it for a year and abandon it the year after.  For the RtI process to have a successful start next year, we need to be talking about specifics as soon as possible.  Going forward as Athena High sets up the RtI process, the decision makers must encourage and seek out parent involvement, and begin planning soon.  Decision makers must also not rush something that is not ready.

Some members of our PLC are also reading Pyramid Response to Intervention by Buffum, Mattos, and Weber (2009).  This book continues to be a great resource to be used in our work on ensuring that all students learn at high levels.  This book describes the RtI model, PLCs, and how to respond when kids don’t learn.

ENGAGING Teens In Their Learning – A Year Long PD Experience

The Athena High School Math Department (an amazing professional learning community) focused this year on engaging students in their own learning and ensuring that all students learn relevant mathematics.  Using Dr. Vermette’s ENGAGING Framework, teachers (math and special ed) and an administrator (Mrs. Goodwine rocks!) collaborated and reflected on the various factors that produce high level learning experiences for students.  The eight factors are: Entice effort through positive relationships, Negotiate meaning, Group collaboratively, Active learning, Graphic organizers, Intelligence interventions, Note making, and Grade wisely.  More information on these factors can be found HERE.

Many Athena math teachers participated in a book study of Vermette’s (2009) book ENGAGING Teens in Their Own Learning.  The teachers met seven times throughout the year to discuss their thoughts and reflections on the book.  The book challenged many assumptions and beliefs that we had about education.  The book promoted lively discussion around what is actually practical in education versus the utopia of education, specifically in math classrooms.  Some ENGAGING activities that we discussed are listed here:

Earlier in the year, Dr. Vermette came to Athena to present to the Athena High School math and special education departments on the “ENGAGING Framework in Secondary Mathematics.”  The workshop was filled with collaboration, reflection, activity, and discussion about the aspects of his “ENGAGING Framework.”  Vermette also shared his thoughts on the age of standards, technology, 21st century skills, Common Core Curriculum, teacher accountability, standardized tests, and increased innumeracy.

In March, a group of Athena educators took a field trip to Niagara University to  participate in a custom designed professional development by Paul Vermette, Karrie Jones, and Jennifer Jones.  A general theme was to build with the knowledge in their heads, not yours.  Vermette said that teaching is not telling; teaching is “sparking thinking.”  One of the activities that we participated in was self-assessing a current lesson by answering the following questions:

  1. How do you build productive relationships with every student? How do their individual (and group) differences affect these efforts?
  2. How do you allow students to develop their own individualized understanding of the important content you teach them?
  3. Under what conditions would you use teams, peer interactions, cooperative learning and/or paired tasks? How do you do it?
  4. How do you use active learning strategies? How do you embed assessment into the instructional process?
  5. How do you use graphic organizers and reading strategies?
  6. How do you use multiple intelligences and other differentiation strategies?
  7. Note-making is one “writing to learn” strategy: what are some of the ones you use regularly?
  8. What are some of the factors that you consider in designing your grading system and determining individual grades?

It has been a great year of engaging professional development for the Athena High School Math Department.  It is our hope that our work this year will help us to implement the Common Core Standards.

Graphing Linear Equations–Common Core Style

Mrs. Marsh and Mrs. Vernon’s Pre-Algebra classes participated in many Common Core Math activities that focused on the following standard:

A-CED.2: Create equations in two or more variables to represent relationships between quantities; graph equations on coordinate axes with labels and scales.

Their students worked on investigations (see below to download), discussed their findings verbally and on the SMART board, and applied their knowledge on the Buzz Math computer website.  Well done students!

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Using “The Simpsons” to Teach Solids

In my Geometry classes, I use the television show “The Simpsons” to teach volume and surface area. In the 10 minute episode titled 3D Homer, Homer goes into a world filled with Geometric solids.  In the episode, Patty and Selma visit the Simpson family and Homer, desperate to avoid them, looks behind a bookcase and enters an eerie new world in which everything is in 3D.

The format of this lesson is as follows:

  1. Have the students watch the 10 minute episode.  It is part of their annual Treehouse of Horror Halloween shows (e-mail me if you want the clip).  You may want to have student write down math related things they see in the show.
  2. Discuss the episode and the math topics.
  3. Have students work in groups (or individually) on the SIMPSONS ACTIVITY WORKSHEET.  The tasks of the activity include naming 3D solids in the episode, calculating the height of a pond in the 3D world, and finding the volume, lateral area, and surface area of various solids.
  4. Discuss and/or collect the activity.

I hope you enjoy the lesson.  Please comment below.

10 Ways to Ensure a Successful Credit Recovery Program

What happens when a student is not learning?  Athena High School has created a Tier 3 response to intervention (RtI) program called the “Algebra Opportunity Academy” (Click here for a blog about the specifics of this program).  As a result of this credit recovery program, 12 out of 12 students earned credit back for at least one quarter of Integrated Algebra.  These 12 students are now on track to pass Integrated Algebra.

In discussing this data with my colleagues, it was clear that there were many reasons why this program worked.  The following are a list of 10 ways to ensure a successful credit recovery program (in any content area):

  1. Colleague support:  This was the most essential piece of this program.  This credit recovery program was highly dependent upon the math teachers of these credit deficient students.  If the math teachers did not trust the rigor or the objectives of the program, we would not have been able to adjust student grades.  Colleague support was also important in the selection of students and in the selection of the power standards that were taught in the program.
  2. Administrator support:  As with most programs, administrators can either be a help or a hindrance.  The administrative team at our school supported the math departments efforts and assisted in contacting the students and parents.
  3. Parent/Guardian support:  All students in this program had parents that set the expectation that attendance was mandatory and supported the teachers in their efforts.  They also drove or arranged rides for their children when necessary.  The transportation component helps to ensure parent commitment.
  4. College student help:  There were 12 students enrolled in the program.  Some might argue that a 12:1 student to teacher ratio is acceptable.  Perhaps, but a 2:1 student to teacher ratio is better and offers much higher instructional intensity.  We arranged six math education college students to come in to assist us in the program.  Many of these students needed a much smaller group to fully master a topic.
  5. Quick and specific feedback:  As this program took place over a short amount of time, it was important to give the students as much feedback as possible to ensure that they were able to “correct” their mistakes.  The Castle Learning website assisted us in providing quick and specific feedback.
  6. Multiple modalities:  This program offered students an opportunity to experience many instructional models: direct instruction, small group activities, computer programs, SMART Response Clickers, Dry Erase Boards, and other lessons that required them to move around the classroom.
  7. Goal Setting:  All students knew their current grade in the course and set a specific numerical goal that they wanted to achieve.
  8. High expectations for behavior and academics:  Clear behavioral and academic expectations were given to students and parents verbally (each parent was called individually) and in written form.
  9. Targeted assessments:  Assessments focused on the essential understandings of the first 2 quarters of Integrated Algebra.  The assessments were a combination of written and electronic (Castle Learning).
  10. Food:  All students were given snacks and a lunch.  Some could argue that this is not needed, but the food resulted in higher student morale, greater student energy, and a positive motivator to work hard.

For more information, please E-mail or Tweet @AndyMaillet.

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