Sunday, November 17, 2013

I've been busy...

I've turned into the worst blogger ever. The last time I posted was the first day of school and tomorrow is the first day of second marking period.  At this rate it'll be another couple months till I'm back here.

Typically the "are you ok?" e-mails motivate me to post something, but even that hasn't been enough lately. This year is SO hectic.  I've never been so extremely busy before. 

This week's Exploring the MTBoS Mission seemed like a perfect way to document the craziness and offer an explanation for my absence. I haven't done any of the other ones yet, but that's ok.

This is last Thursday:

6:00 alarm goes off

6:10ish get up

6:10-6:40 get ready, make breakfast and coffee that I'll eat in the car

7:00 Arrive at work.  I am the first one there (this is normal). 8:30am is the time we actually have to be at school but the morning is my only peaceful time of the day.

7:00-8:00 Drink my coffee. Put on Pandora and get things ready for the day. Make copies for my classes.  Make copies for some club projects.  Realize I left a sheet of paper at home where I had brainstormed possible names for a new club I am started this year that is still nameless.   Do my best to remember the names and type out a ballot to vote.

8:07 Use Remind101 to send out a text that the club meeting will be in my room this morning.

8:15 Kids start drifting in and out waiting for the meeting to start. 

8:25ish Meeting starts. Actually have more kids that usual which is good because I have a lot to talk about. Discuss a Saturday open house, a charity 5k walk/run, conduct a poll for a new name, take volunteers to go around to homerooms tomorrow to make an announcement about the new school hoodies we are selling.  Around halfway through the meeting about 5 more kids came in so at the end I have to go over everything I said for them.

8:45 Meeting ends

8:48 Homeroom starts. The PA system isn't working so I have to tell kids to sit down because the bell didn't ring. I'm frustrated because even when the bell does ring I still have to ask them to take their seats every. single. day.

9:00-10:25 Algebra 1 block period.  We are working on systems of equations and solving them using a table.  During second period the office secretary comes in and tells me that I need to cover a class third period (my duty period). While continuing to teach figure out what I'm going to do because I already had 3 students that were planning to come for extra help 3rd period.

10:25 Duty period. Stand outside my door for a minute waiting for my students to come to me. Tell them to wait while I go get the class I'm covering. Instead of going to them, I'll just have them come to my room. Work includes books so we'll have to bring them down to my room too.

10:27-11:13 Work with my kids on various geometry things they need help on while the other kids work on the work their teacher left.

11:13 Class is over, grab one of my kids to help me bring back all the textbooks we brought from the other classroom. Leave my door open because next period is lunch and my juniors like to spend lunch in my room. If I'm not there when they get there they don't know what to do.

11:15-11:45 Lunch. Another teacher and anywhere from 3-8 kids usually spend lunch in my room.  The majority of the kids are my juniors who I had last year and have again this year.  Depending on the day lunch could consist of anything from doing work they need help with, talking about whatever is currently upsetting them, joking around, decorating my room, or other totally random things.

11:45 Lunch ends and geometry starts. The majority of my class is already there since they are the ones that eat lunch with me. A couple kids come in that didn't come for lunch today. 

11:48-12:30 Geometry. We are finishing up triangle congruence proofs and I'm thrilled because they are getting to the point where they can for the most part do them from scratch on their own.

12:33-2:00 Second Algebra 1 block period. We are also working on solving systems using a table, but this period takes a little bit longer to work on things and really get them. I'm actually very happy with how fast they catch on.

2:03-2:45 Prep period. Today is a meeting for a different club that I advise. Leave my room and go down to the classroom we're having the meeting in.  Pop my head in and tell the other advisor I'll be right back, running to the bathroom. This is ONLY two minutes I've been without students today. Discuss fundraisers and some important dates. At the start of the meeting a student comes in and tells me he really can't stay for the meeting because he needs to be in class, asks if he can just stay after school for a little bit instead to catch up what he missed.

2:48-3:30 Enrichment math. This is a sophomore level semester math class that has very little guidelines on what to cover so I have a lot of freedom. Take them to the library to begin a project on patterns.  Kids log on to computers and go to but of course it's blocked. I don't feel like taking them back to my room so I give them some sections on to work on instead.

3:40-4:15 Kid from earlier comes to catch up what he missed at the club meeting and also work on some skills that he wants to requiz on. Work on a number of different skills that I've been working with him all week on.

4:15 Sit at my desk and appreciate the peace and quiet. Remember that I asked my club kids this morning to hand out school sweatshirt order forms in homerooms tomorrow so I need to go copy more order forms.

4:15-5:00 Get some stuff ready for my classes tomorrow. Make copies of sweatshirt order forms. Come up with a plan of which kids will go to which homerooms and type up a guide of what they should say.

5:00 Leave school. I am one of the last ones to leave (this is normal). 

So this is where I've been. I feel like busy isn't even a strong enough word, but the part that may be strange is that I'm really having a great year. I like to stay busy. Coming from teaching 8th grade this is the first year that all my former students didn't graduate and leave. I love it. Sure I could easily give up all of the "extras" and be less stressed- the clubs, the extra help, allllllll the time spent talking with my students about what's bothering them (there's SO much of this)...but that just wouldn't be me. It is however why I haven't been here. When I actually get home the last thing I have energy for is to write about my day or what I taught.  We had the first week of November off and I needed it desperately to reenergize. Perhaps winter break will be enough time off to actually get me back to sharing things, but no guarantees. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

First Day

Today was the best first day of school EVER!

First of all, I waited until this morning to use my free Starbuck's birthday drink. Starting the day with a venti java chip frappuccino instantly puts me in a good mood.

In the past, I've taught 8th grade so once my kids left me, they went to high school and I only saw them if they came back to visit or I ran into them somewhere.  Last year I taught primarily freshman and sophomores so I was really excited that I'd get to see them all again this year.

My morning started with one of my juniors (that I had last year) coming to my room as soon as he arrived- like an hour before homeroom. He helped me get things set up, got some schedules that I was missing, fixed some posters that were falling and then greeted my freshman as I ran around trying to sort out some confusion that was going on.  A number of my kids from last year came straight to my room as soon as they got into school this morning which made me happy. One kid has the job of changing the date on my board every morning...largely because I just forget. So this morning he came in, and immediately changed the board from June 18th (which I never erased) to September 9th. A couple other kids them even went late to their homerooms because their bus was late and instead of going straight to homeroom they came to see me first. Love them.

Every year I think about whether or not I want to play 31derful. Part of me is a little sentimental because it's been my first day activity since my first year but part of me gets bored repeating activities and wants to try new things. So I think about it every year and every year I decide to play...and I'm never disappointed. And every year I remember how great of an activity this is.

This year was no different. I played today with 2 out of my 4 classes (it was a little too challenging for one period and another period played last year with me)

Some things that come to mind from today:

  • My first period that played did awesome. They were freshman that all came from different districts so it got them talking and working with people they didn't know, and they did really well. Out of 6 groups, 2 of them were able to get a solution (which I consider great).
  • Something new that I did this year was to have groups try to explain their strategy in writing once they completed the puzzle.
  • I always tell the groups that Aces are worth 11 and they can't be 1. This is mainly just because that was the way the game was played where I found it. For the past 7 years, I've held firm on this rule but in all honestly I'm not sure that mathematically it makes all that much of a difference. So during my last period, they told me that it would be sooo much easier if Aces could just be 1. I told them to go for it and see what happened. 
  • One kid told me that he was just going to google the answer. I felt pretty confident that he wasn't going to be able to so I let him try. I figured there was no harm, at least he's taking initiative into trying to find an answer. In less than 5 minutes his phone was back on his desk because he realized it wasn't going to work.
  • And a random fun fact: I don't call this game 31-derful with my kids. With high school kids that don't know me I feel a bit cheesy standing up on the first day and saying we're playing "31-derful" so instead it's become the "31-Game"

Perfect 10
Upon meeting one of my other periods I realized quickly that 31derful was going to be too challenging. Instead I switched it up with them and we played perfect 10. Each group deals out 5 random playing cards from 2-9. Their goal is to use as many/few numbers as they can to make problems that have 10 as an answer. Each problem they create gets a score based on how many numbers they used.

So for example let's say they dealt out these:
Some options might be:
  5 + 5 = 10  --> 2 pts
  9 + 5 - 4 = 10  --> 3 pts
  9 - 5 + 4 + 9 - 7 = 10  --> 5 pts
  (5*4)/(9-7) = 10  --> 4 pts

It's a nice game to get a quick idea of where they number sense skills are at. And for kids that hit a wall, I'll walk over and give them a nudge in the right direction. I may pull out the 9, 5, and 4 and tell them that I know for sure these will work and it makes the task a little easier, while still making them think.

Notice & Wonder
My two freshman classes today started first thing with noticing and wondering things about school. It was kinda funny because they looked at me like I was a little crazy when I told them to write down things they noticed. I told them that I knew this sounded like an odd request, but they were free to write down anything at all. They had a little bit of an easier time wondering, which I expected since they are brand new to the school and mostly don't know anyone at all. A number of them wrote down things they were wondering about school so I think tomorrow I'll take some time to talk about some of those things..maybe go over the school map briefly since "I wonder if I'll get lost" was the most frequent wondering. In general though I was happy with it, my goal was to get them going with the idea of Noticing and Wondering so by the time we get to try it with math stuff they'll at least be comfortable with the procedure.

Calendar Math
My geometry class is a group of kids that I had last year and absolutely love. I modified @heatherkohn's calendar math project and am using it with them as an algebra review. Since I had them all last year, I was able to choose problems specifically for them that I knew they could handle. My calendar is a mix of the ones posted by @heatherkohn and @chrisrime (here).

At the moment, I am planning to do this monthly as a year long algebra review. Every month I will hand out the calendar on the first of the month and it will be due at the end of the month.

So I gave this out at the end of the geometry period and gave them about 10 minutes to start working and they made me very happy. They all have their own personal tray in my room to keep stuff so most of them left it there at the end of the period. One kid was doing an awesome job in class so I went back later to peek at his and found all of the other stuff I gave him in there, but the calendar and his work gone. Which means that he voluntarily took it home to work on..on the first day of school. Love.

This is the version I ended up with for September:
I realized today that the pdf saved weird...26 should be -2(4-17) and 28 should have 4(x+30) on the top 
Download the pdf here. Unfortunately I do not have an editable one to share, but check out Heather and Chris's. I made mine using Chris's and just changed some of the problems.

Also during my geometry period I had them set up their ISNs.  I bought notebooks for them because I knew I wanted to get started immediately. So waiting in their tray was a composition notebook, a spiral notebook and a couple other things I was giving them. I loved that they were excited for the composition notebooks because they knew exactly what that meant. Setting them up was so easy. We did the table of contents, made the folder in the back, entered the first 10 pages into the TOC, entered page headings on pages 1-2 and taped in the course guide...all in a span of honestly like than 10 minutes.

And by far my favorite moment of the day was one of my kids telling me that he panicked yesterday trying to find his ISN from last year because he HAD to bring it to school. And he didn't even know yet that he had me again. He was so relieved when I reminded him that I had it because I collected them all last year to hold on to. However, as soon as he started working on his calendar math problems he asked me for his notebook and I had to admit that I had left them all at my apartment because I had too much to carry this morning. I have to make sure for sure that I bring them in tomorrow.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Roommate Problem

I'm teaching geometry for the first time this year and I must admit originally I wasn't all that enthused. I think this is mainly just because I've never taught it before and the geometry that I remember was memorization of endless theorems and two column proofs. I have an awesome group of kids though and I'm excited about that so it's giving me extra motivation to put time into planning things that are great.

This week I sat down to start planning and started to read through the standards. I came things that were exactly why I wasn't thrilled about geometry. Things like this:
From G.CO.9: "points on a perpendicular bisector of a line segment are exactly those equidistant from the segment's endpoint" 
Ouch. Such a terrible way to phrase an idea that's actually fairly intuitive. The last thing I want to do is have kids copy down a definition, then try to explain it to kids that are already turned off, and then give them a sheet of practice problems.

So this is my idea for a task that would address this idea, with a low entry point that establishes the need for the mathematics.

You and a friend have just gotten new jobs and have decided that you will live together.  You would like to find a place to live where you will be an equal distance from both of your jobs.  Use the map to decide where you could live.

these two points are completely random

The first place I'd expect them to go would be to find the midpoint.  In actually creating this task, I might try to make it so that there is a problem with the midpoint..maybe it's in the middle of a highway or lake or something so they would have to find other places that work.

My goal would be to get them to create a segment between the two jobs and then to create the perpendicular bisector, maybe by measuring or folding or whatever they decide.

To add more to the task, I may also put in a stipulation that says you only want to live at most some number of miles away so that they would have to construct circles as well. And ultimately I'd like to have them get on an actually google map, draw in their perpendicular bisector line and search for any apartment complexes that would be on their line. I think I'd try to design the map in a way so that there are a couple on the line to choose from too.

I also think that a great way to start this would be using Have students make predictions and then we could compare their estimates to the line.

I would wait until the end to add in the formal geometry of it. That:

  • the line they used to connect the jobs is a segment
  • the jobs themselves are the endpoints
  • the line of all the places they could live is perpendicular bisector (and why)
  • that all the points on the line are equidistant from both jobs

At this point, hopefully the ideas wouldn't be confusing because they would have informally have already thought about all these things on their own and developed their own meanings already. By discussing the formal language at the end, all it does is assign the vocabulary to things they already know.

At the moment I don't think it's an especially long task or one that's really all that challenging. I don't mind really that though. Unfortunately I don't have the time to draw every single topic out into a week long project so short tasks are ok with me. I think that it does a good job of giving the standard some context and making it relatable which I'm happy with.

So I'd like input on this. Is there anywhere else you could see it going? Any ideas to make it better or include more learning targets? I'm admittedly new to geometry, so apologies in advance for things that are less than's all a work in progress.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

New Rules

In the past I've written about a set of very detailed classroom expectations I've used.  As I wrote about in that post, I needed them then.  I don't need them anymore.  No I'm not a better teacher or anything like that, it's just that my classroom culture has changed.  I had bigger classes then with many big personalities.  Most of the classes I have now are small and for the most part very well behaved because (last year at least) we just had a really great mutual respect going on.  There were certainly issues with students but I just handled them on an individual basis and it worked fine.

So for this year I'm going simple with the rules.  They were inspired by something I saw on pinterest.

I think they'll be enough. I'm especially fond of #5 because now when they tell me they give up I can reply with a smile and tell them that unfortunately that's against the rules and point to the wall. I find that they start to have fun with stuff like that, like eventually one kid will say they give up and other kids will be the ones to tell them that's against the rules. Kinda like how they started to police each other with the curse jar.

Along with that I have two more new pet peeves that arose from last year.  These two will be hung up too.

This one became an issue last year. A kid would be asking me for help and another kid would pipe up with, "Come on, you're not done yet? This is so easy." Now the first kid is frustrated that they don't get it, angry with the other kid and has totally lost focus.  The kid doesn't want to bother trying anymore because they feel stupid and I'm frustrated that the other kid couldn't just keep their mouth shut.  It just ends up making kids feel bad and I want to stress that it's a really big deal. Instead of putting each other down they should be offering to help each other out.

It should also go without saying, but this goes doubly for teachers. We should never be telling kids that something is easy. If we say something is easy and then a kid doesn't get it at first, they're going to be extremely discouraged and start to think that the problem must be them.

This one is mainly because I'm tired of "I don't know" as a cop out.  Often it was always the first thing a kid would say. Then I'd press them further, urging them to take a guess..even something totally wrong..and I'd say 9 times out of 10 they would say something correct, even if it was just an idea of where to start.  I need them to go straight to the guesses on what to do. For times when they honestly don't know, we'll discuss better ways to say that. When I feel that they truly are unsure on something then conversation turns to where they can find how to do it. But I'm never going to let them off the hook with an "I don't know" so they should learn quickly to not even bother wasting the breath.

Monday, August 19, 2013

What does your room say about you?

So I had an idea this evening and this post is an attempt to think it through...

I went to school today to start setting stuff up in my room and work on a couple things.  Kids don't come until 3 weeks from today but if I start now I can work on things at a leisurely pace...a couple hours here, a couple hours there.  I have to lead some PD on the second teacher day too so I'd rather not have to worry about working on my room then.

So back to my idea...

One of the sessions I'm really bummed about missing at #TMC13 was Dan Goldner's on Problem Based Learning.  From talking to people though I got that they talked about the idea that all of the decisions we make reflect our values.  I like this idea a lot.  Then a couple days ago someone (I'm sorry-completely forget who) tweeted a picture of their classroom and asked what it said about them.

So I'm very curious to know what my classroom says about me to someone that doesn't know me.  My room doesn't really look like a typical high school classroom...or at least not like most classrooms in any of the schools that I've been in.

So my idea is to have students do a quick little activity immediately upon entering my room on the first day of school-before I say anything to them at all.  I will prompt them to just take a look around at things, take it all in and I want to ask the following:
  • What are some things you notice in the classroom/about this class?
  • What are some things you wonder about this class?
  • Tell me what you think this class is going to be like.
I think this could be an easy way to introduce noticing and wondering in a way that has an extremely low entry point.

I also think it will be funny because towards the middle of the year my kids always tell me that their first impressions of my class were completely wrong.  They frequently tell me that they they thought the room was too elementary and that it would be a really easy class.  They've said that they thought it was going to be a really annoying class because of all the procedures I have for doing things and stuff like that.  Within a couple months though they feel like my room is home. So I think that having them jot down some first impressions could be funny to look back at later.

Does anyone have any ideas about this? Ways to make it better perhaps? Or do you do anything similar? I'd love to hear.

On another note, I got an e-mail this week from a student that will be a junior that said in regards to school starting, "I'm excited, I'm sure you're excited about school." I laughed, but it made me think and I'm actually really glad that he thinks that about me.  I'm happy that I come across as someone that enjoys my job and isn't just counting down until the last day of school.  That's all.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Me at a Glance

In the past when I've done learning style and multiple intelligence surveys I end up making an ISN page for them and then find that they don't really get mentioned again.  

Last year I didn't even do them because I knew they never got referred to. It just so happened that I discussed learning styles with kids last year more than ever before.  When working 1 on 1 with kids I am fairly good at assessing learning styles myself just by seeing how they work.  So last year I had a couple kids that didn't realize they were extremely auditory and when I explained this to them it actually made a huge difference in getting them to process better and be aware of the way that their minds work. So this year I want to spend the time to get back to doing this type of stuff, but I'd like to try to do a better job of it.

So I created a sheet to put on the inside covers of their notebook to kind of sum up the way they work.

This is designed to accompany three surveys in particular that I will be using.  

I do want to have more information than just the survey results, so each section has a line that says "for more info, see ISN page ____".  When we put the pages in, they'll fill that out so they know where to refer to.  

At the moment, having this on the inside cover is for my own benefit.  When I'm working with a kid individually, I can glance quickly and then explain things in a way that best suits them. I think it's extremely important to make this transparent to the kids too though, so they know how they can then best help themselves when I'm not around.

I'm also very interested to see how the personality colors thing works out mainly because I took the quiz myself and it is amazingly spot on.  I am gold to a tee.  I found the section on how to tell when a particular color is stressed and how to talk to colors to be very interesting.

Download Folder (there's a bunch of stuff in there)

Fonts you will need are Miserably Lose, KG The Fighter, DK Wayang, KG Seven Sisters, and Ventura Edding.  They're all free and should be easy enough to find if you search for them. I download fonts from most frequently so look there.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

New Course Guide

So I have a syllabus that I've used pretty much every year for the past seven years.  The information has of course changed on it as I've moved schools and taught different classes but overall my life was easy because I just modified it as needed.

Since things were nice and easy naturally I got the bright idea to start from scratch and make something brand new.  That's normal right?  I was inspired by Jessie Hester's post on her parent handout.  It's no secret that I like graphic design which is why I really like this.  I think it's a lot easier to read and just easier to look at.  I like the way the information is chunked and I also took out a ton of information that I suspect no one really ever looked at twice.



What it'll look like in in the notebook, no shrinking required:



Want one for yourself? I uploaded an editable version below with all of my information taken out for anyone that would like one.  It won't look the same without the fonts though, so you may need to download the fonts that I used.  Also, the "Classroom Rules" section I took from another file that I had created so it is an image and therefore not editable.  The entire rest is able to be edited though.

The fonts I used are: Covered By Your Grace and Universal College.

Download Here

Friday, August 16, 2013

Kid Friendly Mathematical Practices Posters- Part 2

Since this post seemed to be fairly popular, I thought I'd upload a couple more versions of the "kid friendly" mathematical practices posters that I made.  One set is brighter and one is a less bright.

I also added an editable version below.  It's in powerpoint 

Download Here (both the color and black and white versions are here- in pdf, jpg, and powerpoint)
The fonts are KG Seven Sixteen (the top one) and Ventura Edding (inside the bubbles)

Note: Just to reiterate what I wrote on the original post about these- I don't take credit for writing the text on the posters. I found the summaries here and really liked them.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

It's like a mystery...

I spent this morning as I spend almost every morning, watching Boy Meets World, and I came across this gem:

If you have 5 minutes to spare, watch it.  I promise you won't be disappointed.

My favorite line: "It's not like it's just an assignment anymore, it's like a mystery."

Good job Mr. Feeny.  This is what I want.

Fun fact: I recently mentioned Mr. Feeny in school amongst a group of kids and a younger teacher. No one knew got my reference. I really getting that old?

And here's the conclusion, just so I don't leave you hanging.

They don't end up giving the answer, but I like the sentiment.

[sidenote: to put these videos in I discovered You can enter the url from any youtube video and trim it down to just the part you want and then share the link or embed it somewhere.  I can see this being very useful]


This is only the beginning of an idea.  Really just me thinking aloud.

In my algebra 1 morning session at TMC [sidenote: I have a TMC reflection post in the works, but I'm still processing it all] we talked about linear functions, and the idea of functions and relationships in general.  My group discussed that most of us were using Graphing Stories which I had a lot of fun with this year.  In addition to this, @pwobyrne said that he uses graphs from Indexed which I'd never heard of before.  I looked it up that night and was hooked.  I stayed up way too late reading that night. Go check it out now if you haven't.

She just posts a little index card graph each day.  These are just a few I like:






So how could we use this??

I have a couple ideas floating around my head:
  • An open-ended writing task.  Just give the kids a graph and have them write about it.  Write about what the graph means, why that might be, what it means, anything else that may come to mind.  Get them interpreting the graph and get them writing.  Really open ended though so that they can put down whatever they notice and wonder.  Having them do this on index cards and hanging them up could be cute.  Maybe have it like once a week? Indexed Mondays? That's not a catchy name at all...
  • After they are comfortable with the idea, maybe give them one without the line drawn and have them decide and draw what the graph might look like.  They could compare with each other and talk about why they are similar/different and what it means.  If I did this I might not want to show them the one from the website because I think their opinions would all be valid (as long as they put some thought into it) and I wouldn't want them to think they got it "wrong."
  • Maybe have them browse the website themselves and pick one/some out to talk about.  Or maybe look for one they disagree with and have them explain why.

Any other ideas?  I'd love to hear them.  Let's discuss...

Friday, August 2, 2013

You must be 21 or over to continue reading...

You know how kids ask all the time when they're ever going to need this?

I found myself doing some very important math today that was very much similar to a couple projects I've assigned.  So next time they ask me that question I plan to share this with them...just kidding, that would be way inappropriate.  But I'll share it here since we're all adults.  Maybe I could change it a bit to share with them.

I came across a recipe on pinterest for strawberry peach sangria but it was only the amounts for one serving.

Recipe is from Joe's Crab Shack
in case you were curious

So my question was if I bought this bottle of wine, how much of the other ingredients do I need if I plan to use all of the wine?

Totally a math problem.

And the follow up question...if I make it so that I use the entire bottle, will it all fit into my pitcher? Or maybe, if I only want to make enough to fill the pitcher how much of everything should I use?

It's kinda like a totally school inappropriate 3 Act right?

So this would be my act 2 info:

Act 2
Information from the bottle

Pitcher information from here

Act 3
I've got nothing fun to share for act 3 since I didn't actually make it yet. I could take a picture later though to complete the task.

I do have my work though. Yes I did pull out a notebook and calculator fyi.  I'm cool like that.

So it will not all fit in my pitcher at once.  Especially since that 114 oz. doesn't include the Sprite and fruit.

One interesting thing that did come to mind though was the idea of unit conversions.  I needed to go from liters to ounces.  If this were a project I'd teach kids all sorts of ways to do this using ratios and proportions and make them show their work.

But I didn't do any of this.  I totally cheated.

I opened up Wolfram Alpha and typed "1.5 L to oz" and had my answer in a fraction of a second.  I'm not saying we should teach kids to "cheat" but considering the fact that so many of them walk around with pretty powerful technology in their pockets, maybe it would be more useful to teach them how to use it. Because in all honesty, if I have my phone/iPad/computer with me I'm going to take the shortcut every single time.

Just something I'm thinking about.  Thoughts? Ideas perhaps on how to make this school appropriate?

Saturday, July 20, 2013

A couple resources to help understand the CCSS

I have to admit that upon first look into the CCSS I did not understand them.  I read through them and just couldn't quite figure out what exactly I was supposed to be teaching.  Each one was a couple of vague sentences that was not at all specific and I wasn't sure what they would actually look like in a classroom.

I saw these flipbooks all over twitter and blogs and pinterest and it only took me a glance through to understand why.  For me, these babies have been the most helpful things ever.  

Just in case there's anyone that hasn't already seen them, for every standard they give:
  • a more complete explanation of what the standard means, this has been really helpful
  • example problem(s) for every single standard
  • instructional strategies with tips on good ways to go about teaching the standard, often including what students have learned before that you can expand upon
  • common misconceptions surrounding the topic that may arise
There is also a really useful page on the mathematical practices and some easy to use question starters to help you start incorporating the practices.

I got excited about these within the last two weeks or so of school and wanted to share them so I sent a link to my principal and supervisor.  Well after looking through them they agreed and my supervisor said to just let her know what I want and she would have them made up for all the math teachers in the district...on colored cardstock of my choosing.  When I went in last week to start working they were all there done- printed, tabs cut out, and bound.  How awesome is that??  In September all the other teachers should be getting theirs.

What we ended up doing was making three different ones for algebra 1, geometry, and algebra 2.  The cover sheets I just typed up myself.  Each one only contains the standards that are covered in that course.  Each strand (number and quantity algebra, geometry, functions, statistics and probability) is printed on a different colored paper.

Another resource that I'm LOVING is shmoop and I am just disappointed that I didn't stumble upon this sooner.  Has anyone else seen this??

If anyone that is like me and is having difficulty wrapping their head around exactly what we're supposed to be teaching with each standard then you need to go check this out like right now.

At the top of the page is a super easy to use drop down menu to get you to exactly which standard you need.  And then they offer explanations of each one that is so easy to understand.  And if that wasn't enough, for every single standard they also offer either a worksheet or quiz with practice problems.

For me, the problems have been so valuable.  Formal language is great and all, but ultimately I just want to know what the kids need to be able to do.  It helps me understand what's really going on.

You can also tell that whoever is writing for them is having fun with it, while still providing great content.  Their explanations are often funny.  I found one that relates functions to Justin Beiber and Megan Fox.  At the bottom of every worksheet they write:
Shmoop will make you a better lover (of literature, math, life...)
So should go check that out right now.

Friday, July 19, 2013


This month I'm at school working with a couple other teachers on writing our new Common Core curriculum.  Something that slightly interesting to mention is that I teach at a vocational school so our district is made up of only high schools.  Because of this the kids are all coming from different middle schools and different backgrounds.  It also means that the curriculum I'm working on will not only be for the the teachers in my building, but for other buildings as well.

My district has decided to use the model curriculum that New Jersey created.  Each course is broken down into five units, spanning seven weeks each.

From the NJDOE website:
Unit 1 begins with setting the stage for work with expressions and equations through understanding quantities and the relationships between them. The work in unit 2 will build on the grade 8 concepts for linear and exponential relationships. Success in unit 2 will lay the groundwork for later units where the students will extend this knowledge to quadratic and exponential functions. 
The standards included in unit 3 blend the conceptual understandings of expressions and equations with procedural fluency and problem solving. The students will not encounter solutions of quadratic equations that are complex.
The standards presented in unit 4 involve functions and extending the concepts of integer exponents to concepts of rational exponents. The understandings will be applied to other types of equations in future courses. Unit 5 will build on previous work with descriptive statistics. Linear models will be used to assess how a model fits data.
Every unit is split into 6-10 Student Learning Objectives (SLOs).  Also provided is a sample assessment for each unit.  We have been working on breaking down the SLOs, looking at the corresponding standards and basically just trying to figure out what the heck it all means and what we're supposed to be teaching.

Our current curriculum is pretty traditional.  We use this book:

...start in chapter 1 and go from there.  There are a couple sections that are skipped here and there, but overall it's pretty straightforward.

Instead of taking our current curriculum and trying to fit in the standards it feels more like we are starting from scratch.  The NJ Model curriculum is totally different than what I'm used to.  We are taking the model curriculum, interpreting each objective and then trying to figure out how to teach it.  Often the objectives match up with a textbook section, but they're certainly not in order.  A number of objectives aren't in the textbook at all so we're also looking for outside resources to include.

I'm still not entirely sure what my feelings are on the whole thing.  It isn't optional so complaining is pointless, but I think that it's going to be a significant change.  It seems that many of the sections I have taught aren't quite there anymore.  It's also no longer really possible to just plan by flipping the page to the next's going to take significantly more effort to plan lessons.  And being the person that is going to introduce this change to the teachers in my school will also be quite interesting.

So who else out there is writing curriculum? What are you thoughts?

If anyone else is using the NJ Model Curriculum I would LOVE to hear from you.

Coming up is a couple different resources I've found to be really valuable in helping to unpack and make sense of the standards.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Kid Friendly Mathematical Practices Posters

It seems that a big part of the CCSS will be incorporating the 8 mathematical practices.

Towards the end of the year I was giving a presentation on the practices and came across this website that I thought did a very nice job of explaining them in a nice easy way and giving some suggestions on implementing them.

I really liked the way they rewrote each practice in perfect kid friendly terms so I turned them into these posters that I plan to put up in my room and use somehow.  I figure that the first step to using them with kids will be to make sure that the kids can understand what they mean so that's as far as I've gotten.

Download Here (both the color and black and white versions are here- in pdf, jpg, and powerpoint)


[Update 8/16: I added a few more versions of these posters here.  Two sets of different colors and one that is editable.]

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

I'm still alive here...

Well I am.  I figured that getting e-mails asking if everything is alright means that it is time to post something here again.  For starters, yes everything is ok.  I had some things happening for the last month of school or so and thought perhaps I'd write about them, but I'm not going to.

This summer has actually been fairly interesting so far.  In past years, I think about school quite a bit.  I spend a bunch of money on school supplies, I try to start planning stuff, I make posters and decorations, and tons of other stuff.  This year when I'm at home I don't even want to think about school.  That has been a main reason things have been quiet over here.  I try to start thinking about school and think about writing posts, but instead I go do something more fun like go sit on the beach, paint rooms in my new apartment or obsessively read the Game of Thrones books...and I don't feel the least bit guilty about it!

So I had a bunch of stuff to say about what was going on at the end of the year, but right now I just don't really feel like thinking about it.  What I will say about it though, is that for the first time in awhile I was actually a little bummed when school was ending.  This year was hands down my favorite year of teaching thus far.  The kids that I had (for the most part) were just so awesome and fun to be around.  The new school that I'm in has been SUCH a breath of fresh air.  I genuinely just had so much fun this year.  I even had a handful of kids that were sad school was ending.  They sat around with me the last week of school talking about how much they like school and how they don't want to stay away for two months.  One thing that was new for me though (since I have taught 8th grade for awhile) is that I get to see my kids again next year.  I may not have them in class again, but they have already made it very clear that they will still be coming around.  On the last day of school I had to assure a couple of them that I will be in my room on the first day of school.  They asked me over and over, just to be sure.  They made it clear that they'll be coming to visit first thing when they get to school in September so I better be there.

So I think that is all for now.  Coming up though, is what I have been working on.  Although I haven't been thinking about school stuff at home, I have been working for the past couple weeks to write our new Common Core curriculum and it's actually been pretty interesting.  I've found a couple things that have been helpful and interesting so I will share them soon.

Thursday, May 2, 2013


This morning a girl told me how much she loves when I give them a graphic organizer for their notes because it makes it so easy.  The class also told me how they're not really that scared about their final because of their ISN.  This makes me happy. :)  

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Exponent Scavenger Hunt

It's scavenger hunt time again.  As a way to wrap up and practice our exponent properties, I set up a giant scavenger hunt.  This is seriously the easiest thing even and the kids seem to have fun with it because they get to move around.

I took all these problems...

and put them onto these cards:

taped them all over this hallway:

and gave the kids this sheet:

Every one of them was completely engaged for the entire time practicing exponents.  They didn't finish so tomorrow we'll finish it up.  It's nice to get out of the room and give them space to move around just to switch things up.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Oh boy

This happened today....

Me: Take a sheet of blank paper.  Ok, now on the top of your paper write these numbers: 1, 4, 9, 16.  Again, that was 1, 4, 9, and 16...write them at the top of the paper you have.  (I repeated this about two or three more times)

Some of the responses that followed:

  • wait what numbers?
  • I wasn't listening, what was that again?
  • do we write them big?
  • do we write them all together?
  • I just wrote them all together
  • it's not even hard, just write 14 and 916

Me: Are we all ok with this?  At the top of your paper you should have 1, 4, 9 and 16.  It doesn't matter how big, just that you see that there are four numbers.  We're going to be doing something where you're only allowed to use those four numbers.
  • four numbers?? I thought there were the 1 and 6 were seperate
  • yeah I thought that too
  • where do you see four numbers? I have five

Never a dull moment.

Exponent Properties

If you haven't already, read this and this.  All caught up?  Ok great.

I didn't get too specific with lesson plans, but I did give my kids a general outline for their lesson.  They needed a do now, their rule and the explanation behind it, an ISN page, practice and assessment.  I'll break down what they did into these categories.

Oh let me also say that I wish I took more pictures.  I've been taking tons of pictures of everything we do this year and I should have taken more, but some days I was too caught up with the lesson and taking notes that I just forgot.  I'm pretty disappointed about this.


They all did a do now.  Most of them came in early before homeroom (this was first period & I have them for homeroom too) to set up their do now.

The zero exponent group gave this as a way to introduce their idea:

The power to a power group gave this (it's two problems and the ISN page headings for the day):

Both the multiplication group and the power to a power group gave do nows that used their rule, which had not been taught yet.  Now this is not something I usually do, but it was fantastic and really got me thinking that I should do more of it.

They had kids guess the answer and just told them yes or no.  Eventually someone did give the correct answer but when the kids asked why, they just told them that they'll go over it in the lesson.  Even though the majority weren't correct, it got them thinking about the topic which was awesome.


As far as teaching went, some kids had pre-prepared slides in my iPad that they wrote on.  Some wrote on the actual dry erase board.  Some used the iPad as a document camera to go through a completed version of the notes.  It was all completely different which was so cool.  Most of them had the kids write and then explained to them what they wrote.  

The most successful groups were ones where it seemed that they had a plan for who would talk when and where each kid had a role.  In most groups there was a kid or two that opted not to be a talker and instead they would circulate and help or work the projector/computer as the others talked.  In some groups kids tried to talk over top of each other and cut each other off and that didn't work so well.

Something I also realized I needed to remind them about was talking slowly.  In the beginning the groups talked pretty quickly and it seemed like as the week went on the other groups picked up on this and slowed down.

Now for the good stuff...

Zero Exponents: on the right is their rule and then underneath it is some additional tips.  The color coding on the notes was all them.  I LOVEEE the idea of highlighting the piece that will belongs to the zero exponent.  I'm stealing this.  On the left is some guided practice that they did in class and then a short quiz that they gave.

Negative Exponents: On the right is their rule and some specific case examples.  Some of the language could be improved upon so next time I need to make sure I go over with the groups exactly what they're going to good.  On the left side is some guided practice and the homework that they gave (evens only).  Something awesome is that I did not find that worksheet for them.  They must have googled for practice and found it online and it's perfect for their skill.

Multiplying Exponents: On the right is their foldable.  I think this is awesome and makes is clear that they had a very well thought out lesson.  The color coding is all them and is fabulous.  They showed two different ways to get the answer and gave the rule.  They even included the homework problems in there so they were prepared.  Bonus points for including smiley faces. :)  The left side was for the two homework problems..see I even did my homework!

Dividing Exponents: This lesson was really, but unfortunately I played the part of bad student. Something happened that pulled me into the hallway for about five minutes, thus missing out on taking down all of my notes.  I felt so horrible to miss what they did, but it was unavoidable.  They did so awesome though and didn't even need me there.  They didn't miss a beat and just kept going.  I didn't want to end up with my page messed up so I didn't write down anything else and instead plan to copy it later.  Look at the part that I did get down though..they did that all on their own.  I couldn't have done it better myself.

Power to a Power: This group looked through their ISN and modeled their page off a different one we did.  I love how they created and showed how to do a bunch of different scenarios.  I did not give them the difference types, they came up with them on their own.  I really like this because it says to me that they thought about the topic and chunked the information which is exactly what I try to do.  This group did not do anything on the left side and opted to play bingo to review.  They even bought Smarties to give out as prizes.  Love it.

So what do you think?  I'm kinda obsessed...I keep showing them off to people.  I gave them no structure beyond "make an ISN page" and I'm really so proud of what they came up with on their own.


This is the area where I needed to give them more support.  I talked about what I wanted them to do, but I don't think I stressed it enough.  Next time I need to go further in depth on giving assessment and feedback.  One group did stellar so I'll be using them as an example next time.  The group that gave the quiz did a very good job.  They actually scored the quizzes as the kids handed them in and told them how they did.  And it gets better...they did this:

How awesome??!  It was completely his own idea.  I told them that they needed to give support on whether or not the kids learned and this was his way of doing that.  I love it.

Monday, April 15, 2013

You be the teacher (part 2)

Last week I did this and got to sit back and be a student while my kids taught the class. 

It. was. awesome.

My biggest observation was that I hate sitting at the student desks.  I hate sitting with my feet on the ground and at home I'm usually sitting on a couch or somewhere comfortable.  Having to attempt to sit up (fairly) straight with my feet on the ground was not pleasant for me.  I probably looked antsy the way I kept shifting trying to get comfortable.  On Friday I complained to a girl about it and she showed me how to hook my feet up onto one of the bars of the desk and that made things a little better.  I have decided that my ideal classroom would consist of couches.

So aside from the seating issue, there were tons of great things that went on.  As I expected, the first couple days were a little shaky but the lessons definitely got better each day.  As other kids were teaching I heard kids talking with their groups about ideas and things they needed to do when they taught.

I had a couple kids ask me out loud during a rough lesson if I was going to be reteaching it.  I didn't like this and I thought it was incredibly rude.  I said no.  The real answer was yes, but I didn't want them to rely on the fact that I would reteach the topic.  I told them that if they were unsure on anything they could go watch the same tutorials on the livebinder that the other kids watched.  This actually calmed them down significantly.

I have to say though that the kids had absolutely no shame in calling each other out for things.  As I mentioned before, they are a very close knit group of kids and most of them are very outgoing.  They had no problem saying that they were moving too fast or that they were confused and boy did they jump all over it when one kid wrote a wrong number.  The kids teaching had no problem telling the class to be quiet or get off instagram.  There were only like two times that I stepped in to help a kid and it was only when I saw them completely lost and getting angry.  Even then I just went over and knelt down next to the kid to help quietly. 

Four days in (after zero exponents, negative exponents, and multiplication) some kids went on a trip and I didn't want to move on so we spent the day just doing practice on the dry erase boards.  I think that this helped and was actually even the perfect place for this break.  It was good for them to practice the skills mixed together and it also let me reteach some of the topics without the kids realizing it because we were just practicing.  

The biggest hesitation I had before this unit was in the fact that I could have taught these topics better.  But the thing is...that's ok.  Of course I can teach exponent simplification better...I've taught it so many times at this point.  And it's my job.  If I couldn't do a better job than a 9th grader that has never taught before, then there's a real problem.  Giving them the chance to be in charge and really own the topic helped them to learn better.

I have to actually say that some of the kids blew me away with how well they did.  I sat in the back of the room a lot with a huge grin on my face because I thought they were doing so awesome.  One girl created an analogy off the top of her head on why exponent multiplication is like cliques at school that I thought was just amazing.  The ISN pages they created were so detailed and so organized.  Today we played power to a power bingo and got Smarties as prizes.  The group that taught zero exponents gave clearer notes than I ever have.

One thing I think I would change is that I would like to have them learn their material at home.  They used resources from my Livebinder to independently learn and practice their topic and I think they could have done this on their own.  I would still want to give them some class time to practice as a group and for me to make sure they are good, but maybe just like half a period.

Next time I would place way more emphasis on them needing to assess their students.  This was definitely the part that most of them were missing.  One group did a perfect job so for the future I'll use this as an example.  Since this is long already, I'll save the actual content they created for another post...

Sunday, April 7, 2013

You be the teacher

I am SO excited to go to school tomorrow.  My algebra kids are teaching our current unit so first period all week I get to sit and be the student while they teach.  I know that the idea of having kids teach is far from new, but it is new for me.  I always stayed away from doing things like this because worried too much that the kids wouldn't do as good a job teaching as I could.  I'm very particular with how I want things to be so it's hard for me to give up the control.  I was talking with another teacher who is doing something similar with her kids and it got me excited so I figured what the heck...if it doesn't go well then I'll just fill in the gaps later.

Well they haven't taught anything yet, but I am so far I am LOVING what they are working on.  I split the class into 5 groups of 3-4 kids each and gave each group one of the properties of exponents.  I told them that they can't just tell the class the rule, they need to teach the kids why it works.

First just a bit of background on my kids:  They are almost all performing arts students so most of them LOVE to put on a show.  They absolutely love any opportunity to get up in front of the class.  They have almost all of their classes together too which means they are extremely comfortable with each other.  They are also my advanced class so for the most part they are pretty motivated on their own.  There are also a couple of them that want to be teachers.  This is not at all to say that it wouldn't work for other kids, just that even before starting I knew that they would be really into the whole idea.

First of all, I chose groups and topics strategically.  The kids then used their textbook and some tutorial videos on my livebinder to first learn and practice their topic.  They were then responsible for coming up with a do now, ISN page, practice and an assessment on their topic.  Their ISN page needed to explain the topic as clearly as possible and needed to also show why it works.  After their lesson they will need to provide me with a reflection on how well the class learned their topic and proof to back it up.

Mostly I loved some of the conversations that occurred last week.  One group got into a heated debate over whether they should give the rule first and then show why it works or if they should explain it and then give the rule.  They asked me how to create foldables.  I taught them how to use the equation editor in Microsoft Office.  They discussed whether they should give a do now that is basic or if they should give a do now that the kids can't really do and then return to it at the end of the period to show that they had learned.  They talked about what belonged on the left and right sides of their ISN.  They talked about color coding and how to use it to effectively.  We got to talk about the purpose of assessments and what counts as an assessment.  One boy asked me if they could give a short quiz and then create a bar graph of the scores to use in their reflection.

Some groups are doing textbook practice.  Some are doing games.  Some are using communicators.  Some are giving homework.  Some are not.  Some are showing videos while others are just explaining.  Some are using the iPad, some are using the whiteboard and some are using the projector.  A couple groups created seating charts to ensure that the certain people don't start talking.  They've asked me if they can come in early before class to get everything set up.

One girl asked me if we could do this all the time because she has never felt as confident with any topic as she does with hers.  She also told me that I make this job look really easy.  I love it.

I was hesitant about doing this because I felt like it might take up too much time.  I could have gone through all of the exponent rules last week and been on to something new this week.  It did take up some time, but the things that they were talking about and doing last week totally made it worth it.  They even took work home without me telling them to.  So while I could have gone through the content quicker, we would have missed out on all the other things that they learned last week that were not specifically related to exponents but still valuable.

Can't wait to share what they teach me this week!

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