Thursday, August 7, 2014

TMC14 Take-Aways

Just a few ways TMC14 will influence my classroom in 2014-2015.

1. Re-thinking Algebra 2. I spend most of my day teaching Algebra 2. I really enjoyed our Algebra 2 morning sessions led by Glenn Waddell and Jonathan Claydon. I left with so very much to think about. There will be strong evidence of these sessions in my classes this year. So much that it will need its own post. Or ten.

2. Alex and Mary's session was a game-changer. Inspiring, I'd say. These two teachers pitched everything and teach grade 10 applied math using ONLY activities. Such bravery! Mary blogs about all 85 days of the semester course, starting here. I am not sure what I will do with this information. At the very least, I'll read through Mary's blog and steal some great activities. At the most, I could jump off that proverbial cliff that Alex talked about.


3. Routines. Though not an actual session, I am pondering what routines should take up daily or weekly space in my classroom. There was talk of so many amazing resources and how people were using them. I am thinking of daily warm-ups, estimation 180, visual patterns, talking points, fostering collaboration and growth mindset, giving students time and space to share about their personal lives, and more. There is value in every one of these things. I really want to be purposeful in how I use my class time. I have a few days to figure that out.

4. Oh, the beautiful beautiful notebooks. There were tabs, foldables, colored paper, and highlighters. Did I say tabs? TABS!! I don't know if I can attain this and I am not entirely sure that I want to try, as I am conflicted by the time spent cutting and gluing and such. Oh, but it was nice being in the same room with all of them. They were so pretty, so organized . . . so full of reference materials. The comment that lures me the most? Kids love their notebooks. They OWN them. They protect them and save them for years after your class.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

That TMC Post

If you are reading this little ole blog, then chances are you've already read multiple recaps of Twitter Math Camp 2014. I don't have anything to add in the way of expressing how amazing it was, but I'll jump in anyway and share my experience.

First of all, I traveled with my three colleagues. Yep, the entire math department from my little school was in attendance. I didn't think it was a big deal until person after person commented along the lines of "You brought people with you?! How did you do that? I mention twitter math camp and I just get an eye roll." I don't have a good answer. Full disclosure, it was only a four hour drive and our school covered expenses . . . but still. My co-workers gave up five days of summer to go to this "crazy nerd camp", and they all left saying it was the best conference ever. I am excited for all the in-house conversations that will result from this shared experience.

See what a good little MTBoS evangelist I am?


Presenting! This being my second year to attend TMC, I felt like I wanted to contribute by helping with/leading a session. TMC can't exist without people chipping in, right? Problem: I didn't feel like I had anything to share that I haven't learned from others in attendance. I ended up teaming with Jasmine Walker to share about coding projects we'd done in our classrooms, inspired by a "my favorite" she'd shared at TMC13. We spent a lot of time prepping for that session and it felt good to contribute, even in a small way. 


Another advantage to this (again, my second) TMC is that there were more familiar faces. The feeling was  family-reunion-y, in the best way possible. There were also people I knew but I'd never met. We were oddly half-friends and half-strangers. Now full-friends.


I met a few people who recognized me and thanked me for something I'd shared on my blog. (WHAT?!) They might as well have handed me a million bucks. Appreciation is currency around here. I want to remember to be more generous in saying my thank yous to the many who share so freely.

All this and I haven't even talked about the sessions and how they will affect my teaching this year. There are so many things to write about! And here I just talked about the experience, because that's what first came to mind.

What we have here is unique, for sure. 

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.