We’re on a block schedule for our two days of semester tests, so I had an extra long planning period this morning. I used part of that time to un-decorate my room for Christmas since I figure that will be the last thing I want to do when I come back in January. I’m a bit sad to see the Christmas decorations go because they weren’t just any ordinary decorations. They were vocabulary ornaments created by my Pre-AP Algebra 2 students.

This project was inspired by Toni Madison, a middle school math teacher and blogger. You can check out her original post about the ornament project (plus lots of other Christmas ideas) here. I used the rubric she shared on her blog with my students. The only real thing I had to prepare for my students was a list of vocabulary words we had learned this semester for them to choose from.

I didn’t have an extra Christmas tree for students to hang their completed ornaments on, so I improvised by hanging garland around the room. This ended up working really well, actually, because students were able to easily see EVERYONE’s ornaments.

I only did this with my Pre-AP Algebra 2 classes. My on-level Algebra 2 classes were actually jealous once they saw all the ornaments that my other classes had created. Why didn’t we get to do that?!? Since I did do this with Pre-AP students, this assignment was completed entirely outside of class. Students provided their own supplies. If I were to do this with on-level students, I would probably give them time/access to a limited number of supplies in class.

One of my favorite aspects of this project was that students had to write a paragraph explaining the meaning of their vocabulary word and how their ornament reflected this definition. I would definitely NOT do this project without the written aspect. There were a few ornaments that I was unsure what word they represented UNTIL I read the paragraph. Then, it made total sense.

Here are a few close-ups.

Linear

Sigma Notation

System of Equations and Y-Intercept

Symmetry

Reflection and Absolute Value

Negative Interval and Domain

Matrix

Quadratic Formula

Arithmetic Sequence and Vertex

Y-Intercept and Horizontal Compression

Piecewise Function

Vertical Stretch and Function

Axis of Symmetry and Positive Interval

Reflection and Y-Intercept

Vertex

Domain

Next year, I would make a few changes to this project.

1. I thought I had a brilliant idea of creating a google doc where students could sign up for whatever vocabulary word they wanted to do. This ended up being a disaster. Students were erasing each other’s names from the google doc, and it took way too long for them to stop trying to sabotage each other and choose a word. I think I might just pass out vocab words next year and let them trade with a friend if they don’t like their word.

2. I definitely want to introduce a brainstorming aspect to this project where they complete an intermediate assignment where they have to write down the definition of their vocabulary word and create a rough draft of ideas for what their ornament might look like. Some of the ones that didn’t make it into the close-up pictures were a bit lacking on the creativity side, and I could tell they were most likely done at the last minute.

3. A lot of the vocabulary words we use in Algebra 2 overlap with vocabulary words from previous math courses that students have taken. I didn’t do the best job of emphasizing to students that they needed to make their ornament reflect the definition we learned in Algebra 2. Several students took a much more geometric approach to their vocab ornaments than I would have liked to have seen. I need to emphasize this next year. I think doing the above idea will help take care of this as well.

4. I think I would also start this project SOONER next year. Originally, I had planned on assigning it right after Thanksgiving. But, life got crazy, and the deadline ended up being a little too close to comfort to the deadline to get semester grades in for exemptions. Plus, the sooner we get the decorations up, the longer we can enjoy a Christmas-y decorated room.

5. The last change I would make is to have students present their ornaments to the class with a quick presentation. I think this would increase student buy-in and end up producing better projects.