Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Dear Genie (A Modest List of Wishes)

Dear Genie, Some days summer prep feels overwhelming. I need your help. Please bring me these things so that I can do a better job incorporating SBG and INBs in all my classes for next school year. I will need everything on this list for each of my classes:

1.  A concise skill list with 10-ish skills per quarter. Connect the list to my state's standards. Format the list to fit in the notebooks, with space for students to record their scores.

For each skill on the list, I need all of the following:

2.  Some good learning activities. These may include lecture, inquiry, projects and such. I'd like a variety, actually. At least a portion of each activity should be formatted to fit in the notebooks. And, if it's not too much to ask, I'd like the notebook portion to be real pretty. Please used colored paper and markers.

3.  A set of differentiated practice problems with a key. Whenever possible, make the practice not look like a worksheet. Kindly make sure each set is structured to encourage cooperation and discussion within groups or between partners.

4.  Four versions of each assessment. When students need to re-assess, I will be prepared.

5.  Additional learning activities and practice (again, with a key) for when my students haven't mastered a skill.

Please deliver by August.

Thanks a bunch, Genie. I am going to bed.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

What's For Supper?

One more non-mathy post before I (hopefully) get into full next-year-prep mode.

In case it is helpful to any of my teachery friends out there, I thought I would share a system I set up to help with one of my biggest school-year stresses: Making supper.

While this won't make supper cook itself, it will at least save a ton of time when it comes to menu-planning and grocery-list-making.

First I made a list of 30-ish meals my family likes enough to eat, well, once every 30-ish meals. These are the only things I am going to cook during the school year, usually along with a salad or frozen veggies. Occasionally something might get bumped from the list and something else might get added, but this is pretty much it. There is nothing sophisticated here for sure. They are mostly simple meals with short prep time and minimal ingredients. Cooking isn't really my thing. But it is cheaper and healthier than eating out, so I try.


When it is time to "menu plan", I just need to highlight 5-ish meals on the list. Those are what I'm cooking this week. I cross off the meal once we've eaten it. When we've gone through the entire list, I will print a new one and start over. 

The next problem I've always had is grocery list making. I hate digging around for recipes and putting the ingredients on a list. I also hate trying to remember all the things we use on a regular basis and hoping I don't forget about toothpaste or toilet paper. And then I discovered this app:


You can input your own recipes, or pull them in from a variety of websites. This took me some time, but should pay off with huge time savings later. (Hint, you can skip typing the directions. Its the ingredients that matter). Now I can select the meals that I've already decided to cook, click the grocery cart (see it there in the upper right corner?), and boom! The ingredients are automatically compiled in a list.


I also added a recipe titled "staples" where the ingredients are items we always keep around like milk, bread, breakfast bars, and such so that I can easily add them to the grocery list by clicking on that recipe. And, because I am very thorough, I also created a recipe called "stuff we use" where the ingredients are toothpaste, toilet paper, and such. So I can also add those items to the list with one click. It is very easy to remove items from the list if you already have them on hand. 

Then go shopping. I haven't figured out a way to speed up that process.

I picture myself coming home from a long day of school, looking at what's highlighted on the list, and throwing something together easily since I will already have all the ingredients on hand. So no more worries about supper.

One less thing.

Thank You June

This June I decided not to think about school. It turns out that was an impossible goal, but I did manage to not do any much school-related work for a whole month. Instead I focused on things I wanted to do at home, and on spending time with my family. My husband is also in education, and we end up having six weeks with the whole family home together. So nice.


There were t-ball games, camping trips with hiking, and a dance recital. There were story times, swimming lessons, zoo visits, and play dates. I cleaned out some closets, sewed a Willy Wonka costume (long story), painted a bedroom, trained for and ran a 10k, and made photo books documenting our daughter's (almost) five years of life.


We homed a caterpillar, named her Buttercup, provided her with luxurious living conditions, and watched her do something very unexpected. She died. 


We started this book, loaned from a friend. I am fascinated by the process of helping a little one learn to read. And it works! She's sounding out words like a champ. 


My little learner set up this cute little system for our reading time. The red watermelon means that she is busy chewing a fruit snack or taking a drink and needs a little break. The green peas signify that she's ready to read. It reminded me of red/yellow/green cups from @druinok. And my mind was back to school again . . .


I feel refreshed. And I'm ready to tackle some new challenges in 2014-2015 with a fresh perspective. I'm looking at you, Calculus, cooperative groups, interactive notebooks, formative assessments, SBG, PLC, common core, lions, tigers, and bears, oh my.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Creative Inspiration

I am soooooo looking forward to Monday. We have district wide in-service. I can't wait!

And I'm not even being sarcastic.

We get to spend the entire day with our PLCs. My math-teaching buddies and I have decided to use the whole day to create activities for our classrooms.

No yawn-inducing sessions that don't apply to us. We are going to create stuff that we can use!

I've been compiling supplies, links, and ideas for inspiration.

Beach balls, because summer is soooo close.


I made the pink ice breaker one a while back. It is covered in silly questions. You toss the ball to someone, they answer the question underneath their right thumb and toss it to someone else. Something like that with math facts might be perfect for our intervention teacher?

Plastic eggs I got on clearance after Easter.


I am thinking an egg hunt? Maybe a problem inside the egg leads to an answer written on the outside of another egg which opens up to reveal another problem? There could be a different color for each group.

Or, that same thing in an egg carton. I like these white plastic eggs because they aren't seasonal. It might only be a worksheet in disguise, but its way more fun.


Foam pieces. I've found that writing on pieces of craft foam with a sharpie makes for durable sorting cards & such. No laminating necessary. The strips could work for putting the pieces of a proof in order? I am sure we can find some other uses as well.


I have a bunch of wooden blocks in my cabinet. Perfect for custom-made dice.


Links to my favorite activity structures: Add 'em up, speed dating, solve-crumple-toss, war (all via Kate's blog). Also bucket of lies, math dominoes . . . what else?

Here are some samples of those for everyone to look at.


And some cooperative learning books with tons of great ideas.


Oh, and I am hoping to convince someone to try Barbie bungee.

Hoping for a productive day!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Today's PD Brought To You By . . . Students

My colleague James had the idea to invite students to our PLC for a panel discussion. It was a very interesting/insightful conversation. The students were pretty honest with us.

First we put together a list of questions. We did this rather quickly, so there is nothing special about them. We just wanted to give students some prompts to get them talking.

Next we selected a group of students. We chose all older students, thinking that they would have had most of the teachers in our little department at one time or another. It turns out they mostly commented on their current classes, so next time we will choose students from every class. We also chose a variety of students in terms of ability level and performance. Finally, we looked for kids who wouldn't shy away from speaking up and giving us some constructive criticism. We ended up with six students, and that was just the right amount.

Finally, we gave each student a personal invitation to come to our meeting and share their thoughts about math class. All of them gladly accepted.

Here are the questions we asked and a summary of the responses. We have about 25 minutes for our PLC meetings, and we finished these six questions with just the right amount of time.

1. Name one thing from one of your math classes that you would NOT change. Why?

  • Having answer banks on homework
  • Activities where we can move like scavenger hunt or quiz/quiz/trade
  • Being forced to organize (a binder or composition notebook)
  • Spiral review helps us remember stuff from earlier in the year
  • Projects/creating things
  • Having assignments on paper (versus out of a textbook)

2. Name one thing that you would change. Why?

  • The answer banks on homework make us too reliant 
  • The paper is too small in the composition notebooks
  • Units should not be longer than two weeks

3. When you miss class, how do you usually get help to make up the work?

  • Edmodo
  • Talk to the teacher
  • Get help from friends/other students in class

4. Do you like us using Edmodo? Is there another way you would like us to post work?

  • Those who use it do like it
  • Only about half of them use it because they don't remember how to log in (!)
  • Edmodo needs to be easier for us to access


5. How do you perceive the advanced classes versus the regular classes?

  • At first when I found out I was not going to be in the advanced class I felt stupid, but now I like that the class is at a good pace for me and I understand what we are doing.
  • I (student in regular) used to cheat a lot last year (love the honesty!). I haven't cheated at all this year because I understand what I'm doing.

6. What would you like to see more of?



  • extra credit
  • games
  • hands-on activities

The hardest part of the whole discussion was NOT responding when students said something negative. When they mentioned a practice they didn't like, my gut instinct was to explain why we do it that way. But that's not what this is about. Listening is key. 

This discussion triggered a few adjustments and more discussions for us. At our next PLC meeting, everyone shared their favorite hands-on type activity or game. Teachers shared specific activities that were mentioned by the students. We also resolved to use Edmodo during class occasionally, just so that everyone knows how to log in and is aware of what resources are available there.

Next time we will get a different set of students and probably write some new questions, but we will definitely do this again.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

April Fool's Day, Volume II

Teaching relatives is weird, but also pretty fun. I've be able to see my nephew almost every day of his high school career. Two years ago, he pulled a cute little April Fool's joke.

He's a senior this year and his little brother is a freshman. This year they decided to step up the level of their April Foolin'.

It is a good thing I like them . . . because they recruited assistance and spent an hour and a half of their evening on March 31st prepping this April 1st surprise for me:


I couldn't even walk through the door!


And I was a little proud.


I would send them to the office for a detention, but the Principal OK'd the whole thing in advance. 

And the Assistant Principal unlocked my classroom door for them.

How's that for a conspiracy?

Friday, February 14, 2014

On Peer Coaching, Struggling Students, and Green Pens

Backstory #1: I've mentioned before that this is my first year teaching two levels of Algebra 2. The regular (i.e., not advanced) class has challenged me like no other. When things go well, I must document so I can try to make that happen again.

Backstory #2: In our PLC recently, we resolved to look for ways to increase peer tutoring in our classes. This is something that has been important to me for a long time, but lately I've been looking for ways to be more intentional about it.

We are at the end of a unit in Algebra 2 and for the past two days, my lesson activities have looked like this:


Step 1: Finish yesterday's assignment (rational equations, most had 2-3 problems left).
Step 2: Work on a set of 16 review problems. Get a green star from me on each and every problem. (One of my strategies has been to check every problem. It helps me to locate errors and misconceptions, and students seem to be more confident and make more forward progress when they have immediate feedback.)
Step 3:  If you have any incomplete assignments from this unit, work on these pages in your composition notebooks.
Step 4:  Teacher will assign extra practice or tutoring another student.

On Day 1 all students progressed from Step 1 to Step 2. No one finished step 2 entirely. I roamed from table to table answering questions and placing green stars on papers.

Day 2 was perfect. I was a little frantic for the first 10-15 minutes as I ran around with my clip board answering questions, giving green stars, and double checking to make sure everyone was working on the step they were supposed to be working on. But there was a moment, about 20 minutes into the class, when about half of my students had finished step 4, received a green pen, and been assigned to another student who was working on another step. All of the sudden I became an observer to the learning that was happening. I still monitored progress and answered an occasional question, but the students who were assigned to tutoring were doing a GREAT job! They were sitting there, green pens in hand, talking about greatest common factors and common denominators and reciprocals and exponents. This is what I want my class to look like. 


Things I'm still smiling about:

1. The look on each student's face when they reached step 4 and I handed them a green pen. I have written about green pens before, but I haven't used them a lot in this class. I didn't feel like these students were ready. But on this day I trusted them and they exceeded my expectations. The green pen truly conveys confidence to a student. Students feel honored to receive it.

2. When I borrowed someone's green pen and they said "May I please have the green pen of power back?"

3. Four students who got everything completed and were assigned to extra practice on white boards. They kept asking me for more problems so that they could race. I was using this set of problems from Kate's rational expression speed dating since I already had them printed out. These are not easy, but these "struggling" students were asking for more.

4. Realizing that these students are mastering the exact same content as my advanced algebra 2 classes. We are going more slowly, pausing more for reinforcement and review, but they are doing the same sets of practice problems and the same tests. I was not sure that this would be possible. But maybe it is.

5. My superintendent walked in to visit when the green pen students were all paired up and tutoring away. She is always welcome, of course, but it was nice that she got to see a moment that I was particularly proud of.

And a few reflections:

1. I am wondering if the green pen is so powerful because I use it constantly. I am always walking around, looking at students' work, and giving them green stars when they are good to go. Students might view it as kind of an authority thing. Hence, the way they feel when they receive "the green pen of power". 

2. Using multiple steps for review was a win! I noticed that when students got to step four, they were pumped that I assigned them to tutoring rather than extra practice. And the few who finished up on tutoring were not surprised or upset when I told them they were ready for extra practice. It was right there on the board, so no one was surprised. Truth, I really only cared that everyone made it through step 2. There would have been so many missed opportunities if I had let them stop there!

So, I have plenty of days that don't go as planned, but this was a great day. Here's hoping something in this post will serve to help me re-create it more often. :)