Stain stick, Band-aids, and Sharpies

In an effort to keep up the blog, I felt I needed to post something. Sadly, I don’t have any *oh wow, that’s a great activity* ideas to share. Things are just kind of blah right now and I know I need to fix that, but sometimes stuff at home just trumps lesson plans and that’s been my life lately.

So, instead of a great lesson plan or a cool classroom activity, I’ll just share what I’ve learned in the last 2 weeks.

If you want to win over a bunch of high school kids, have Sharpies on hand, keep band aids in your desk (if you want bonus points, get the ones with cartoon characters on them), and have a bleach pen or stain remover handy at all times. Crazy right? but I swear, I’ve had a half a dozen kids buy into my class because I had these things on hand when they needed them. It didn’t cost me much. It’s all stuff I use anyway. And it wins them over. Everytime.

If you want your high school kids to be on your side, TALK TO THEM. About stuff that isn’t your subject. Or even school related. Ask them where they work. Find something they like and act like you’ve never heard of it so they can feel smart. Currently the topic of my classroom is Duck Dynasty and Frog Giggin’. Sure, I have a remote conception of what both of these are, but what does it hurt to let a few students think they are enlightening me to something they think is awesome. They respond well. Everytime.

Finally, I’ve been reminded this week to laugh. Not at people, that’s mean. Laugh at yourself. Laugh at funny jokes. Show a funny video if you can’t find anything else. This life is short. This job won’t last forever. Heck, this day won’t even last very long. Those kids are only mine for an hour a day (thanks for the reminder @fawnpnguyen). I have to make it count.


Day one…

Day one is in the books. My feet are tired and I had cereal for supper, but that’s okay. Right?

I don’t know how a lot of other people feel about the first day of school, but for me its a love-hate relationship. I love the fact that I get to greet a whole new group of students and introduce them to me wackiness. I love surprising them by being different than other “first-day” classes. I hate that I never get through what I have planned. I hate that it wears me out.

This term I have three Algebra 2 classes (1 regular, 2 honors) and a prob/stats class. After the requisite roll-call I had the students complete a group activity to break the ice and get them into the spirit of collaboration. In prob/stats we started discussing Kristen Gilbert (thanks @druinok and @approx_normal) but didn’t get very far with it. I had hoped for more discussion and interest from them, but they didn’t really seem as into it as I am. I’m hoping tomorrow will be better when we start looking at the data and drawing some conclusions. Algebra 2 started the “RoCo” activity (I think the technical name is “datelines”…thanks @Mathalicious) and again, we didn’t get as far as I wanted. They did enjoy the discussion and seem to be interested in the activity though. So I’ll count that as a win.

Now, here’s the real meat of this post. One of my favorite elements of my first-day classes is the feedback I get from the students. At the beginning of class I give them a sheet of paper to fold in half lengthwise (hot dog style, for all you paper folders) Then we cut one of those halves into thirds.

2013-08-07 17.57.302013-08-07 17.57.44                    On the uncut half they write their name, then draw 4-5 images that help me know them better. Most of them hate this, but I think its a good icebreaker for some of the vocabulary and notebook stuff I want them to do later in the term. They label each of the flaps on the cut-side with the days of the first week (we meet on Wednesday, Thursday, & Friday). At the end of class I give them a couple of minutes to write down anything they want to or ask any question they feel like asking. The first year I thought this would just be a nice way to kill a few minutes before the bell rang, but after I got home and looked at them I discovered that my students had a lot of stuff they wanted to know about me, my classroom, my life, etc and this allowed them to ask. 

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Most of the comments are the same.

I wonder if there will be a lot of homework.

I wonder if I will do well in this class.

I wonder why you have such weird clocks.

I wonder what we will learn this year.

Every once in a while I get something truly unique.

I wonder what your favorite wing flavor is at Buffalo Wild Wings.

I wonder if your feet hurt after wearing those shoes all day.

Here’s the part of this whole process that makes it work for me any my kids. I read every. single. one. and write SOMETHING on every. single. one. For three nights in a row. Most of the comments are standard, canned phrases.

       I hope so.

You will get the grade according to the effort you put into the class.

Yes. You will have homework.

Yay! (for those kids who are brown-nosers and think i want them to tell me how great my class is going to be)

Occasionally I get to answer interesting questions. Occasionally. But every student gets a comment. Or a return question. Every night. For three nights in a row.

Does it require a lot of my time? Not a crazy lot, but I have almost 120 kids so it doesn’t get done in 10 minutes.

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Is it hard? Not really. There are some comments/questions that are difficult to respond to, but not many. Is it worth it? ABSO-FREAKIN-LUTELY. My kids get a little bit of one-on-one time with me. Even if its just to say “Good idea.” They know I’ve read their thoughts. And made them feel important to me. From day one.

Yeah. That’s a win in my book.

First day of school Eve

So, tomorrow marks the first day of school for students and while I still have a zillion things going through my head that I need to do, I chose to share my favorite part of my classroom instead.

I don’t have a color-coordinated room, or a themed room. My stuff doesn’t match. It’s whatever I could find on sale and have collected over the past 16 years. But it is organized and it is me. Maybe I’ll go for a theme next year.

BUT this year I did add one new feature. I did not come up with this. I saw it on Pinterest a couple of years ago and wrote it in a notebook. I don’t remember who posted it, so if it was you let me know and I’ll give proper credit.

This is probably my favorite part of my room.

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I love the message it sends to students, but I love it for another reason. Sometimes I have a bad day and I can forget to make students feel welcome, or loved, or important. Perhaps with this hanging in front of my face I will be reminded of why I chose this profession (which I still love) and that every student in my room deserves to be treated with respect and importance.

Okay. Now I have to get back to planning for tomorrow.


Idea tracker

Disclaimer: I intended on posting this in the early days of summer, but time got away from me. I think the info is still useful, but you be the judge.

Disclaimer 2: This is not all that rocket-sciencey. It’s just how I try to organize new ideas and information for my classes during the off-season.

Disclaimer 3: I know it isn’t Monday. Either I’m really late for last week or really early for this week. I must write when the blog-muses bless me with their presence.


Last summer (2012) I knew I was in the midst of a burnout and wanted to make some serious changes to my classroom routines and lessons. So I started reading books and blogs about grading, teaching, structuring classes, classroom management, etc. and said to myself “Self, how in the world are you ever going to remember all this?” After a bit of thought (read: first idea that came to mind) I decided to keep it simple and portable.  Simple meant non-electronic. I love my phone and computer, but when an idea hits I just want to jot it down, not try to type it on some micro-sized keyboard or wait for a program to open. My ideas don’t hang around very long. I gotta seize them when I can get them. Portable meant I needed it with me at all times. Even next to the bed when I slept and in the car when I was travelling. (During which time I always pulled over to write down a thought. Never did I try to write and drive at the same time.)

So, here’s my solution.  This one is actually the version I’ve been using this summer (2013) but nothing really changed.

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I warned you, it wasn’t rocket science. Heck, I’m not even sure it qualifies as a Made4Math, but it’s one of the few original ideas I’ve ever had, so I’m going with it.

It’s just a simple notebook, umm maybe 5×7 or thereabouts. I threw some small post-it notes on the edge to serve as section dividers, and labelled each one with the classes that were in my schedule for the year. We are on trimester, so each color represents the different trimester. As I came across ideas or thoughts, I just jotted it down under the appropriate tabbed section. Easy-peasy.

I also elected to have a “Miscellaneous” section for all those ideas that weren’t content specific, like behavior management or classroom organization.

I expected to toss it after school got started, but found that it was helpful as I gathered information that would be useful in later terms.

At the end of the year, I went through and was happy to see that I had used a great majority of the stuff I had written down. In years past I would have forgotten most of those ideas the day school started.

At the end of the year I was able to simply rip out the pages that were written on, remove the labels, and start the process again for this school year.


TMC13 reflections

I, like about 100 other really cool people, have just returned home from TwitterMathCamp 2013 (TMC13) in Philadelphia. For this quiet, somewhat shy, introvert it was a very fulfilling experience.

I learned of TMC12 about a week after it ended last year and felt like I had missed out on the greatest gathering of all time. I’m not sure how I even stumbled upon it, but within a matter of days I felt like I *knew* these people. Immediately I started reading their blogs, stalking them on twitter, basically emerging myself in anything I could find that connected me with them. They all just seemed so…cool. And here’s the crazy thing. They just welcomed me like I had been part of the group all along. They answered my questions, acted like some of my comments were funny, and appreciated the few ideas I shared with them.

So, when I learned that TMC13 was going to happen, I felt compelled to be there and I was not disappointed. It was unlike any conference I had ever attended. If you can imagine, it’s almost like a hybrid between a family reunion, professional development, and summer vacation. I’m used to going to conferences where I cannot wait to get out of the sessions, or I feel like I am wasting my time, or I am frustrated with the lack of professionalism, or knowledge, or innovative ideas. I am not used to being with other people who are as passionate about quality math education as I am. But TMC is different.

Everyone there is an incredible math educator, but everyone is looking for ways to improve. It isn’t about patting oneself on the back, but about helping each other get better. Get better pedagogically. Get better in content knowledge. Get better in lesson planning. Just get better. So kids learn more. And don’t hate math.

You know it’s different when all the participants cannot wait to get together. When the hotel lobby is NEVER empty because everyone is hanging out together. When people are actually SAD that they have to return home and cannot wait to plan the next event. When not only do they spend all day together during sessions, but also every evening at supper, and at non-math festivities. When they would rather be together than sleep. This is PD? Seriously? Seriously. The best kind.

New Years Resolutions

Well, I have successfully managed to not blog all summer. I really thought I would have been able to spend more time on it, but time just got away from me. I spent WAY too much time traveling this summer and simply didn’t make the time to write. Sad but true.

Update on the summer to-do list: all travels will be completed by this time Sunday. Only one trip remains, TMC13, and it is the trip I have genuinely looked forward to the most all summer long. I did get some of the books on the list read (Dan Brown’s was very good–even had a mathematical twist to it) but failed miserably on the pinterest list. Dissertation is only half done, which just makes me sick to my stomach.

I hope to be better at sharing my classroom activities this year. I slacked off badly and now am regretting it as I try to remember what worked well and what sucked.

To get back into the spirit of things, here is a Made4Math (just a bit late) that I’m planning to implement in my Algebra 2 classes this year.

I have seen numerous posters and posts from elementary grades teachers that give students “Today’s number” then have them do 8 or 10 things with it, like add 10, write in words, draw it, etc. I really like the idea of the repetition, but wasn’t sure how it might work in a high school classroom.

Then, I went to one of several summer PD sessions where we spent considerable time discussing the behavior of various functions and then it dawned on me…we’ll study a “Function of the Week”. Students will get the equation of a function, then determine all the good “stuff” about it: graph it, make a table, domain, range, intercepts, increasing and decreasing intervals, symmetry, etc.

Here’s the handout I’ll give students for their notebooks:

*Many, many thanks to @samjshah for helping me figure out how to embed this silly document.**

***Sorry you lost the fun fonts***

I think I’ll make a poster size version to laminate; then I can write on it with the students and leave it hanging for the entire week. I’d love to keep all 12 up, but I’m just not sure I have the wall space for it. I’m hoping that by the last half of the course I can give them different information, like the table of values or the graph, and have them determine the equation.

I’ll holler back at you in a few weeks to see how its going.

Some perspective please?

Can you all help me get a little perspective here?

Today my students took the End Of Course (EOC) assessment for algebra 2. Last week my AP stats students took their AP exams.

Last week I knew before they left me that getting half of the multiple choice questions right and about half of each free response questions correct would mean they passed the course and earned their college credit.  Fifty percent was perfectly acceptable and within the reach of the vast majority (if not all) of my students, even though they did not have to choose to sit for the exam.

Today I sent my students into a testing situation encouraging them to do their best.  The scores were available immediately and my highest score turned out to be  student who got 39 out of 76 questions right.  The grade equivalent my central office sent informed me that this student would get an A, 92% on his report card.  I was mad.  I could not understand how getting just barely 50% of the problems right earned a student an A.

Why do I think this is acceptable in one situation and yet am angered in the other? Neither is really making sense tonight.

Summer 2013 dream list

Inspired by @gwaddellnvhs, I’m committing my summer to-do list to “paper” with the hopes that by writing it down I might actually get part of it accomplished.  I always bite off more than I can chew but hopefully this will keep me on track.

Item #1: Finish that pesky dissertation.  THIS WILL GET DONE. Period. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.

Item #2:  Reading list:

  •    Embedded Formative Assessment by Dylan William (In progress. Thanks @druinok and @ pamjwilson for the twitter book chat).
  •     5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematical Discussions by Margaret S Smith
  •     Teach like a Champion (author to be posted later–it’s at school and I’m not)
  •     The new Dan Brown book (comes out tomorrow)

Item #3: Summer travel

  • Myrtle Beach with my awesome kiddo
  • 2 days of robotic PD (I think I get to build robots)
  • AP stats training at University of Louisville
  • Trip through Washington and Western Canada (for dissertation writing–uh huh).
  • Laying the Foundations training (pre-AP curriculum)
  • TMC13 (short for TwitterMathCamp) in Philadelphia with one of my closest friends.

Item #4: Improve/create effective Learning Targets for whatever classes end up in my schedule.

Item #5: Develop/create 2-3 formative assessment “events” for each learning target designed in Item #4. As I am learning in EFA (refer to reading list) formative assessment must be intention and with an outcome in mind. When done on the fly it loses much of its effectiveness.

Item #6: make all that stuff I’ve posted on Pinterest–some for home and some for my classroom.

Item #7: put together my niece and nephew’s wedding quilt top. If I don’t get it done by Labor Day it will be their 1st anniversary present.  If you two are reading this, it’s really item #2, preceded only by that silly dissertation.

I think that’s about it.  No wonder summer seems so short.

Time for a brain dump

Random thoughts that might come in handy when I have to write the dissertation:

We are 4 weeks away from the end of the term, which means End of Course Testing.  At this point I honestly don’t know what to expect.  Some days I think SBG is going to shine, other days I just don’t know…

SBG in my class works like this:

I give the students learning targets, and make an effort to limit us to learning no more than 3 targets a week.  Some things, like converting a radical to exponential notation are not learning targets, but are built into larger targets, like, “I can solve radical equations”.  This keeps us from having a zillion tiny targets and, hopefully, lets the kids focus on the stuff that really matters.

Roughly once a week we assess the targets we have covered, and I try to limit each assessment to 3-4 targets, with 3-4 questions per target.  At first I was worried that this wasn’t going to be enough questions, but after the first couple of assessments, I think this is plenty.  To demonstrate proficiency, a student must pass two assessment of each learning target.  Since they are only completing 3-4 questions, I felt it was important for them to show me on more than one occasion that they knew what they were doing.  I guess this is my attempt to minimize the “cramitallinbeforethequizthenforgetitbeforeievenwalkoutthedoor” effect.  Grades are on a 10-9-8-7-5 scale, but the students just get letter grades.  A-B-C-NY (for not yet). I realize as I write this, that I am rambling.  My sincerest apologies, but I told you at the beginning it was a brain dump.)  So, Johnny gets two grades for LT #1.  In my gradebook they are labelled 1.1 and 1.2.  If he is happy with his grades, he can consider the target mastered; otherwise he can choose to take a 3rd assessment on his own time and if the grade is better than one of the other two, I will swap the grades.  All NY scores are required to reassess.

Whew.  This is harder to explain than I thought.  Writing a dissertation is going to prove interesting.

Students in the SBG classes took about 6 weeks to start to get the hang of the process.  Since I only have them for 12 weeks I would consider that a bit too late.  I’m afraid that I am going to have students in my room every morning and afternoon for the next 4 weeks.  I love helping them, but EVERY morning and afternoon????? I’m feeling office hours coming on.

It took the 2 different groups of students 6 weeks to figure out that some of them were on SBG while some of them were on traditional.  I’m expected parent complaints and phone calls to start pouring in within the next week…and I’m not really sure how to respond.  I want to let the traditional kids have the chance to retest to improve their grades…but I think that would really mess with my data. But I feel bad telling them they can’t retest.  We’re talking about GPA’s and scholarship money here.

SBG is taking a lot of time for assessment.

I have actually found grading SBG to be faster and easier than traditional grading.  I don’t have to worry about whether or not the mistake is worth one point or two.  I don’t have to worry about whether each question should carry the same weight, or if the last one is more important than the first 10 put together.  I just have to keep a clearly defined standard of what constitutes A, B, and C work.  Which has honestly been easier than I expected.

I can’t wait to see if this has any  impact on End of Course testing.

A good day to be me


Some days are just good, ya know?  At the end of it, when all the kids leave, you just feel like good stuff happened.  Perhaps some of it was due to diligent planning, but heck, sometimes it just seems to happen.  Today, it just kind of happened.

In Algebra 2 we have been studying polynomial functions; to this point we are really just getting started, so everything is in factored form.  We completed this investigation (graph_polynomials) last week to introduce the students to end behavior and degree, root behavior, and general graphing (I did not create this, and have no idea where I found it.  If it’s yours, shout out and I’ll credit ya.  If you make it, thanks, BTW.  Great job.) I got them started on Thursday, then had to be out Friday so they worked on it without me.  That generally leaves me a little queasy to my stomach, but this time it worked out pretty well.  When I returned on Monday, I recapped the investigation, asking them what they thought they thought they should have gotten out of the activity and, while I’m not sure any one student came out of it with everything, as a class they were able to generate the same list of goodies I would have lectured to them about.  (Hallelujah chorus is playing in my mind right now).

I flashed an equation on the screen and asked them to tell me anything and everything they could about it and, again, no one knew it all, but together, they did.  Instead of harping on what they didn’t get, I chose to credit all the stuff they did know, and really highlighted the fact that while they might not have known it all on their own, TOGETHER, they totally rocked. Then, we filled in this Graphing polynomials foldable.  Actually I only guided them through the layout…they already knew what needed to go in it. Today, I pulled out the mega-white boards and gave each pair of students a set of equations to graph.  It took them a little longer to get going than I expected, but once they did, they took off with it.  I was able to get around to the students who needed the most help, and the others really communicated well and worked through the process together.  I heard great conversations about finding x-intercepts, knowing how the ends were supposed to act, and putting it all together to come up with a complete graph.

2013-03-06 09.12.22     2013-03-06 09.15.09

I guess the real test will be tomorrow when I ask them to do it on their own.  For now, I’m just going to enjoy what appears to be a successful set of lessons. Now, to figure out how to get from real roots to complex roots and standard form…the challenges never end.

Oh, and we got to throw inflatable globes at each other in AP Stats class.  Yep, today was a good day to be in room 413.