Sometimes, this job…

Disclaimer: there is nothing related to lesson plans, teaching ideas, or anything professional in this post. It’s personal.

I teach. I love teaching. I love seeing a student “get it” after struggling. I love designing new lessons. I love scouring the MTBoS for ingenious ways of presenting material. I really do. But not today.

Today I’m sitting in ICU with a dear family member who is struggling to move from this life to the next. She barely knows I am here with her. I want to be her for her and for my husband, completely. But the job I love weighs on me the whole time. To even be here, I had to spend 3 hours writing lesson plans and figuring out what I could leave that a) the students would have at least a shot at being able to figure out and that b) wasn’t a ton of busy work. While I’m here, I get e-mails from parents wanting to know why their kid is failing and from students who want to know when they can retest. I still have to spend 3-4 hours completing a professional self-reflection as part of the new, *improved* teacher accountability that my state so fondly embraces. I have to pour through transcripts for students who need to take an end-of-course assessment…even though I have asked them who needs to do so. See, we can’t even deem them responsible enough to know what courses they have failed and repeated. I have 3 stacks of tests to grade, because that’s what I left them to do last week while I was here. And, I have to be ready to go back into the classroom Thursday, which means more lesson plans and idea development.

Thank goodness I have students who are patient, and who, at least on some level, know what my family is going through and are willing to endure the boring lecture and who are willing to at least try everything I leave for them to do. If I wasn’t blessed with those kids, I’m not sure how I’d even handle this situation.,

I love my job. But sometimes I really do wish I could escape and just take a month off to take care of my family. I have enough sick days. But I can’t make that many lesson plans. Real life just kind of sucks at times.


Legos, Dirtbikes, and Desmos

So, I’m supposed to be working on chapters 3 and 4 of my dissertation, but once again I find myself sidetracked and in need of something else to do to clear my mind before I go back to the statistics and joy that is APA formatting.

I teach Algebra 2, and we have implemented the CCSS for math. We’ve been messing around with the standards for the past few years, so it really doesn’t seem all that novel to me now. It still bugs me that the end-of-course exam we give doesn’t really seem to be all that aligned to CCSS, but that’s a blog for another day.

Last week we finished our brief lessons on systems of equations (after all, that topic is in 8th grade and algebra 1 now, right?) and came to the days of linear programming. While I find LP problems somewhat fun and cool, history has shown me my students most definitely do not share this admiration for the subject. So this year I decided to bring in a new tool. Enter Desmos.


My blogging skills are incredible sucky, so I don’t know how to make this a hyperlink. You can get using  As soon as I get smart, I’ll hyperlink it.

Anyway, I’m all, like, excited to show them LP on Desmos. Especially NOW that you can find intersection points by simply clicking the mouse. Totally cool, right?!? So, we went through the lego furniture problem (courtesy of @fawnpnguyen) and the NCTM dirtbike problem and the kids are hooked on Desmos. Oh, and they can do LP problems like no body’s business. Here’s what it looks like:


So, I’m happy. Until I remember the blasted end-of-course test. And now I’m mad. And frustrated. Isn’t one of the “mathematical practices” to use tools strategically? Now c’mon, you can’t tell me that using Desmos for this crazy long process called linear programming isn’t strategic. Do the kids still have to be able to write the objective function? Yep. Constraints? Yep. Graph the stuff? Yep. Find the vertices of the feasible region? Yep. Determine which one offers the optimal solution? Yep. Isn’t that the point of LP? I think so. So, I have about 60+ kids who, for possibly the first time in my career, really understand LP AND who understand the best tool for the job. Yet, I fear they will not score well on the EOC because they will miss a sign when they are solving a constraint for Y so they can graph it. Or they will miss a sign when solving the system for the intersection point. And since the test is all multiple choice, well, you know where that leaves them. With the wrong answer. And no credit for any of the work they really do understand.

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. 

2013-08-07 18.07.51           

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.

2013-08-06 19.19.19

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.

2013-05-23 22.56.54


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.