Saturday, August 10, 2019

T Minus 2 Days

Hard to believe it's been two years since my last post, wow!  It's been a bit crazy around here, but I'll talk about that later.

So we are embarking on another year in just two days.  I have to say, I'm pretty excited!  This will be year 5 at my campus, teaching both Algebra 2 and Precalculus.  This is the first year that I am not really feeling the beginning of the year anxiety that usually sets in during our PD days.  Really, this is quite amazing considering some of the significant changes that are happening this year. 

First off, we have a new principal.  He seems pretty awesome so far, but his leadership style is definitely different than the last principal, and I loved the last principal's style.  I'm not really worried about working for someone new, but my hope is that he is present for the kids.  We have a pretty awesome admin team with 4 assistant principals as well, but the principal's presence on campus is so important for the kiddos on our campus. 

I also have 3 new teachers on my team, one of which was hired last week and has only been on our campus for two and a half days.  I'm sure he's feeling a little anxious about starting with the kids already on Monday.  So far, each one of our new team members brings something different to the team and I'm pretty excited about these new additions. 

This year we are also starting a new intervention program with our math kiddos that have previously failed or are at risk for failing their Algebra 1 STAAR.  I have a group of 8 freshman kiddos that I will be working with from day 1.  In the past we have waited and started intervention sometime in the middle of the fall semester for repeat testers or the middle of spring for at-risk freshman, but this year we are getting our group of kids from day 1 so that we can first build a strong relationship with them before starting on the intervention work.  The plan is to do SEL activities with them on Mondays, intervention work and tutorials Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and then Friday Fun day, which is reserved for team building and game activities.  I'm especially looking forward to the Friday's because I love games, and many of our students have never played a board game or card game in their lives. 

I really am hoping to be more intentional about reflection this year and hopefully some more regular blogging.  I guess this is a start! 

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Classroom Management

I'm a little intimidated writing a post on classroom management because I am no expert and I've had plenty of classroom chaos in my years.  What  I have become better at is rolling with the punches when things don't go exactly as planned.

For me, the best way to keep things going in the right direction in the classroom is engagement.  It's those idle times that lend themselves to a little monkey business from my darlings.  From the time they walk in until the bell rings at the end of 50 minutes, my goal is to  keep them busy.  Here are a few thoughts about what it means to me to "keep them busy."

  • I train my students to begin working on something as soon as they walk in the door.  Whether it's some problem they pick up on the shelf when they walk in the door, or a warm up activity I've posted on my screen, they learn really quick that when I walk in after the tardy bell, my expectation is that they are already working.
  • I try to vary my activities every 10 - 15 minutes to cut out the boredom.  Throw in at least one where they have to get up out of their seat an move around a bit.
  • I use a lot of group activities where I will select one from the group to grade, but I don't tell them which one ahead of time.  Each student has a different colored piece of paper and I draw the color to grade at the end of the period.
  • I find setting a time goal very helpful to keep them on task and up with the class.  I'll say something like "You have exactly 2 minutes and 32 second to complete the next problem and then we are moving on."  Not sure why this works, but its like they don't want to be left behind because they know we are moving on to something else after this.

The end of class is usually where I have my struggles for class structure.  Biggest pet peeve of mine is students who want to pack up and stand at the door before the bell rings.  I found myself saying a few too many times, "What, are we back in kindergarten, standing in line to leave the class?"  Totally my own fault, I'll own it, but I have to get better at this part of my class this year.  A teammate of mine suggested that I allow them to pack up 3-4 minutes before the bell, but then have one more quick closure to do until the bell.  I'm envisioning saying, "You have 2 minutes to pack up and be ready for...."  Hoping that this time goal will ensure they pack up quickly, but are still attentive to the fact that we are not done yet.   

My math team actually set a goal this year for all of us to work towards bell to bell engagement so maybe I'll have some more ideas to share as the year continues.   

Saturday, August 5, 2017


Gah!  Where did the last year go?  I cannot believe that it has been over a year since I last blogged.  I recently saw @jreulbach post about the new MTBoS Sunday Funday blogging initiative and am going to try and jump back into blogging more regularly.

So what kind of goals do I have this year?  Honestly, I sometimes become overwhelmed with all the things I want to do in my life in general, which then results in getting very little accomplished.  I know, I know, I need to just focus on one or two things to make it all more manageable.  This is a very hard thing for me to do.  Here's what I have so far...

Classroom Goals

  • Incorporate the use of the Desmos graphing tool in more lessons.  I was very inspired by @saravdwerfs post about Evangelizing Desmos and just how Desmos can be a game changer in the classroom and how it can build equity and access for all our students.  I want to use it to build great conversations and to help them see the math they are doing.
  • Student Reflection and Feedback.  This is another big one for me this year.  I want to really focus on teaching my students how to reflect on their learning by providing feedback to them in a variety of ways.  I want to get away from just getting the answer and being done.  I want them to really see the value in really digging deeper into the problems and being able to explain what their thinking was when they were solving the problem.  Not exactly sure how this will look, but I'm working on it.  

Professional Goals

  • Reflecting on my teaching even more.  Obviously if I value this for my students, then its something I need to model and refine for myself too.
  • Focus on being an encouragement for me team at school, seeking ways to build them up and help them become better teachers.

Personal Goals

  • I got really lazy about exercising last year, always with a good excuse why I couldn't make it to the gym.  This year I want to get to the gym more often and if I can't manage that I want to at the very least walk regularly.  
  • Be more consistent about cooking and eating healthier meals.  We will be down to just the two of us this fall as we send all four of our kids off to college.  I know that it would be easy to just grab something for the two of us, so I am going to have to really make an effort to plan and cook.

Just for Fun

  • I used to be more of an artsy kind of person, but just haven't had time to pursue those things in the last couple of years.  With my kids all out of the house I am hoping to dabble a little more in some crafting areas.  Right now hand lettering and calligraphy are on my radar, as well as pulling out the old rubber stamps to start making cards again.
  • Finally, reading.  I absolutely love to read and really hope to squeeze more of that into my life.

Well there it is, finally a blog post.  Now here's to hoping I don't wait another year to write again!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Card Sorts for Groups

I love card sorts.  I use them pretty often as a way for my students to show me what they have learned or to reinforce what we are learning.  I typically do card sorts with pairs because both partners remain relatively engaged while they work together to match up or group cards.  I find that card sorts with larger groups are more challenging because I worry that some students will just sit back and watch others do all the work.

After a brief chat on doing card sorts with groups by @samjshah on Twitter earlier this week, I was reminded of a method for doing a group card sort that I learned a couple years ago.  I had completely forgotten about learning this at a school PD day and was thankful for the memory prompt.  The method was presented by an amazing teacher on my campus, Ramy Mamoud.

Okay, let's take for example a card sort involving Linear, Quadratic and Exponential relationships(you could use this Card Sort) and  a group of three students.

Here's how this card sort would work:
  1. Instruct the students that there is to be no talking during the first part of the sort.
  2. Have the students begin by laying out all of the cards face up in front of them.
  3. Instruct them to take the Title labels and lay them out to create three columns that the other cards will be added to.
  4. Now silently, without any help from each other, have them take turns placing the cards into the three groups, one student going at a time,  Reinforce that they must remain silent, even if they think one of their group members is making a mistake and placing the card under the wrong title.
  5. The first student in the group chooses one card from the pile and lays it under the title in which he or she thinks it belongs. The second student takes a turn and does the same.  The third student follows and the group continues going around, each member laying only one card at a time.  
  6. During the silent, no talking time, you can play music for the class.
  7. When all of the cards have been placed, have each group sit silently while you wait for all groups to finish.
  8. When all groups are finished with this first part.  Have the students take turns again, going one at a time, to move cards that they think may have been placed incorrectly.  
  9. If a student feels as if a card was placed incorrectly, they pick it up, explain to the group why they think it was placed incorrectly, and then place in the proper place.  If the group members do not agree, they should discuss and come to an agreement on where it should be placed.
  10. Finally, after the groups agree on the final placement of each card, the solution can be revealed.
  11. Follow up discussion might include having the groups pick a card or two that they weren't sure about, or couldn't agree upon and discuss as a class why that particular card was a struggle for them.
  12. Another follow up option would be to have each member of each group choose a card and then write their justification for putting it into the group that they did.
Some thoughts on why this method of a group card sort is a great activity:  

First off, this activity is very low risk for the student.  Because they must remain silent and cannot point out a card being placed in the wrong group during the first round, students don't have to worry about being called out for being wrong.  By the time the group goes around several time to place all cards, no one remembers exactly who placed which card, so no risk of being called out at the end of the first round either.  

Second, all members are totally engaged.  While one student is placing his card, the other group members are looking over the remaining cards and deciding which one they want to place.  They will typically look for a card that they feel that they can place correctly, so they are spending some time in thought about each card as they make their decision.  

Finally, during the second round, students have the opportunity to move cards and discuss their reasoning for placing in a different group giving them time to look at and discuss cards they maybe aren't quite sure about.

I'm so glad I was reminded of this activity so that I can incorporate it into my plans for this year!

Would love to hear your thoughts!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Assessment Reflection

Last year was the first year our district used new math curriculum and so it was a crazy year creating new material and new tests and everything to go along with the new curriculum.  As I went through the new year, I created some great tests and I'm sure a few not so great tests.  Grades on some were good, on others, not so good.  We did spend some time looking over the tests in class, but I really want to do a better job of having the kids reflect on how they did on their tests and of course be able to capture that data.  I do have my class averages for each test, which gives me a little information.

What I really want though is data on each question, but who has time to go through all tests after grading and write down how each student did on each question.  Valuable data, but impossible to collect by myself.  In the past I have had students fill out a reflection sheet after a test and then collect those sheets, but again, if I want to pull any data about each individual question, I would have to go through each of those papers and pull that out myself.

There has to be a better way, and maybe some of you all already have a great way of doing this that I haven't stumbled upon yet!

As I sat this week preparing my materials for a Google Apps PD session I'm facilitating for the teachers in our district in a few weeks,  I started thinking about how I could use Google Forms to collect this data.

I'm envisioning that on the day I hand back tests each student will access this Google Form to enter their reflection and data on their own test.  The data will be collected in a Google Sheet that will allow me to sort by question to see exactly how my kids did on a specific question and why they thought they might have missed the question.  Here's picture of what the form will look like, what do you think?  Would love any ideas or feedback that you think might improve upon what I have here.

I'd be glad to share if this is something you might find useful.  Just send me a note and I'll provide the link since sharing Google forms can be tricky.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Finally Summer - Back to Blogging and Tackling Homework Issues

I did a pretty good job of blogging this past school year, until I hit February.  It was at about that time that I became completely overwhelmed with everything and just couldn't.  I either didn't have the spare time or when I did find some extra time, I didn't have the energy.  So here it is June and the kids are out of the summer and now I need to get back to reflecting and start planning for next year.

I really wanted to attend some kind of summer math conference this year, but with the way my summer is looking I just don't think it is going to happen.  I have two graduating seniors this year and everything that that entails is driving my crazy life right now.  Graduation is Thursday at 2:00, immediately after the ceremony we hit the road for Arkansas to attend twin 1's new student conference and registration at John Brown University.  We will spend two days there, Friday and Saturday, head home Sunday only to turn around Monday night and head to twin 2's new student conference at Texas A&M on Tuesday and Wednesday.  We will head home Wednesday night and I return to curriculum writing for my district that I started Monday and will continue for two weeks.  As soon as that is over I will head to Indianapolis for twin 1's National volleyball tournament for a week.  Finally in July things will slow down a bit, aside from all the college prep I will be doing with the girls.  I can already tell the summer will fly by and it will be time to head back to school for the fall. Okay, deep breath.  I have to keep telling myself I can do this.

Here are my two girls on their last day as seniors.

Back to teaching and school related things...


Always a struggle for me.  I know the value of practice but getting the kids who really need the practice to turn in homework has always been a struggle.  As I looked over my gradebook at the end of this year and the accumulation of zeros for some of my students I really felt discouraged.  I don't want to be that teacher that fails a student simply because they can't seem to get their homework turned in.  This year I did homework stamp sheets where students received a stamp for completing their homework, then did a reflection on the learning for that unit before turning in the stamp sheet on test day for a grade.  This was great for the conscientious student who always does their homework when it's assigned, but it was a failure for the students who are procrastinators or simply cannot finish what they start.  My rule was that if they did not get some items stamped before test day they could simply staple all of the missing assignments onto the stamp sheet for credit.  On each test day I would get quite a few packets of work from my procrastinators and as I looked through their work it was pathetic.  It got to the point that I think they just scribbled something down to get their "completed" stamp which was such a waste of time for them and for me and this in now way prepared them for the assessments over the material.

I want my practice work to be meaningful, not just something that students check off that they have done without regard to quality.  Also, because I post solutions so that students can check their own work, I am sure a few of those beautiful homework assignments were just copied straight from my worked out answers, and it was obvious who was doing this when test results came in.

I want my grading practices to be a true reflection of what my students have learned, not how well they can comply and follow directions.  I don't want to find myself in a situation at the end of the year with a student who has demonstrated mastery of content but is simply failing because he hasn't turned in his homework stamp sheets.

I want to raise the bar of learning in my classes and make sure all students are accountable for learning the content.  I want to develop a system to meet the needs of those kids who do not learn the content the first time around.

So as I begin this summer I have a lot to consider and think through as I plan for next year.  I would love your input as I wrestle with what I want and how to make it happen effectively in my classroom.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

#MTBoS - Questioning about Polynomial Functions

The MTBoS blogging initiative this week is about questioning strategies in class.  This is an area that I know I need to improve upon.  This year I have really been focusing on trying to be more of a facilitator and not such a lecturer in class.  I know I have a tendency to talk too much and to spoon feed my students too much.  I really want to talk less and make them think and discuss more.  I want to ask the right kinds of questions to make them really think and probe each other.  Baby steps, I keep telling myself.  I know I can't totally revamp every lesson, especially with incorporating a new curriculum in our district this year, so I am making small changes here and there, with the hopes of adding new ideas each year.

Enter our polynomial functions unit.  In the past, I have simply given notes to my students on all the ins and outs of polynomial functions.  I didn't want to do that this year.  I really wanted them to look at the equations and the graphs and figure out the patterns they saw on their own.  I stumbled upon Dylan Kanes post about Polynomial Tasks and really liked his Characteristics in a Table idea, so took that and revamped it to my needs.

After deciding what I wanted them to find in a table, I then asked questions that would hopefully drive them to discover what they needed to know.  I tried to use questions that started with "What do you notice?"  and "What pattern do you see...?"  The day was amazing.  I spoke very little.  I listened a lot and they talked a lot.

I'll discuss more of the lesson itself later, but what made this day so amazing is that the questioning strategies I chose to use really worked.  Instead of telling them to notice something, asked them what they noticed and you know what?  They ended up noticing and figuring out all of the information I would have given them in a set of lecture notes.  I have to say, it was probably my favorite lesson of  the year.

I really want to get better at asking the right questions, and do it more often than I currently do.