Monthly Archives: September 2013

Using objectives purposefully in the math classroom

When I was first asked to write my objective on the board in my classroom, I flat out refused.  I dug my heels in the sand and complained, “What for?”   It seems that administrators were convinced that statements such as, “Students will be able to ….”  was the latest and greatest idea for making students achieve unrealistic goals.  Personally, I didn’t see the point!  Did the students care?  Why was I writing something for the benefit of my administrators that only walked through my classroom about once a year.  One more thing to do in an already crowded day!

Many years into my career, I had the incredible opportunity to participate in a professional development course led by Corbett Harrison and Kindra Fox, that focused instruction on the research of Wiggins and McTighe and their book, Understanding by Design.  It was as if a perpetual light-bulb had been turned on over my head!  Students need to know what they are learning and why they are learning it.  Also, we have to set our learning targets before writing our lessons, then we create the acceptable evidence of mastering that target, and only then should we plan lessons to achieve those goals!  I was doing everything completely wrong!

After one year in this professional development course, I was hired to be a trainer and teach other teachers how to bring Wiggins and McTighe’s research to life in all math classrooms.  I am completely passionate about creating essential questions that engage students and involve them in their own learning.  I love to get students enthusiastic about what they are learning.  In that vein, I created a video that is meant to “hook” students into learning about surface area and volume.  Not only does the video raise interesting and exploratory questions, but it also provides a driving essential question that can be used throughout an entire unit on 3-D Geometry.  Here is the link to the essential question video,, which is on you-tube.   I hope your students enjoy!

How can you combine linguini and trigonometry?

The other night, my son was discussing what he was learning in trig class and it made me reminisce about the days that I taught trig.   When I first started teaching that class, it scared me.  If you made the tiniest mistake, the students turned on you like wolves.  After a while, I got my groove and turned the class into a great inquiry-based course that I adored teaching.  One of my favorite lessons from the beginning of the year is an activity called linguini trig.  I adapted it from an article I found called “Spaghetti and the Sine Curve” that appeared in The Mathematics Teacher in the 90’s.  The whole lesson is an amazing way to show students how the trigonometric functions are graphed and it gives them a solid foundation in periodic graphs.  I decided to replicate the lesson on video (about 15 minutes long) for teachers to see how the lesson looks from start to finish or students could view it to solidify understanding of the concepts of graphing.  The link to the video on youtube is   I hope you enjoy!    Here are some documents you need for the lesson: graph template001 graph template002

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The CCSS 8 mathematical practices

As I spend time examining the Common Core State Standards for math, I am struck by how powerful the mathematics is in there.  What concerns me the most is that the CCSS was written by mathematicians who have a fantastic handle on what mathematicians need to know, but I think the documents lack a bit of down-to-earth verbiage for teachers and students.  When I read the 8 mathematical practices, I was impressed at how the practices discussed the habits of mind that it takes to be a mathematician.  The more I read it, though, the more I realized how difficult it would be in its current state to use in the K-8 classroom.  For the past two years, I have used the 8 practices in my classroom (grades 6-8) to not only drive my instruction, but to guide the methods that I use to help students become mathematicians.  I also have a version of the practices for the lower grade levels (K-3).  Over the course of two years, I feel that I created a student-friendly version of the practices and engaging lessons to help students use them every day in the classroom.  I have a narrated power-point to explain my lessons and there are documents to use in the classroom at my websitesmall_picture_8_practices.

Welcome to my blog!

My name is Holly Young and I am a mathematician, math teacher, and math trainer.  I just recently left the classroom and decided to go out on my own to create resources for math teachers.  By and large, math teachers have the raw deal in teaching, especially in secondary schools.  The onus falls on the shoulders of the math teacher to lead every day, every minute of every lesson.  We don’t have scores of amazing National Geographic videos or Discovery websites that further our curriculum.  If we have to be out of the classroom for a day, then we usually lose a whole day of instruction.  It is my goal, therefore, to create useful media that math teachers can access and help forward student learning.  I have lessons available for multiple grades and topics at and I will continue to add more lessons and useable media.  This is a journey for me, so I will be constantly improving and creating new resources.  If you have suggestions of what resources you would like to see on my website (or blog), please feel free to let me know.

This first file that I am posting came to me as a sudden inspiration while training teachers on creating essential understandings (questions) in the classroom.  As I was asking teachers to write an essential understanding that encompassed multiple grade levels along the same CCSS strand, I kept asking them, “What is the essence of this strand, and why do we need to learn it?”  The result of that exercise came to me in a flash when I asked myself, “Why do we study the main topics in mathematics?”   Math_poster