If you ever have the chance to make a big purchase, over anything else, I recommend a curriculum.

When I first started teaching {seven years ago} I was given textbooks and the worksheet workbooks that come with them. The end.

The next year we received a grant and an instructional coach who introduced me to the Common Core Standards. A currciulum was unheard of at that time that aligned to CCSS. I didn't really know how to create lessons or good assessments or a curriculum at all. The coach helped me a lot and shared some lessons from other teachers as well.

Over the next few years I became very active on Twitter and math blogs and I began to beg borrow and steal any and all lessons I could, just to have something to teach or 'cover' a standard.

In years five through seven, I began to feel more confident in my ability to create lessons and activities and assessments. Although not to a level that I could comfortably call CCSS. But I had a curriculum.

Year 6 I became the only math teacher of all 4 preps. A whole new course to design. Hooray.

Year 7 an online senior math course was cut and added to my schedule. A whole new course to design. Hooray. 5 preps.

And all along I had a sinking feeling deep down. "This curriculum isn't aligned. It's not good enough. It's not even close to Common Core level. You're skipping important stuff. You're never going to fit it all in. You're teaching too slow. You're not preparing your students for college. Our math program is not as good as surrounding schools. You're lecturing too much. Everything you do is packets. You're boring. You're not doing a good job. You're failing."

This all came to a head in a meeting that didn't go well and left me feeling like a failure. I began to really hate my job for a few weeks. Like hated every day, complained, woke up mad to go to work, and really re-thinking my career choices. I was so unhappy.

I e-mailed some math teacher friends from another school and they mentioned a curriculum they had bought for one course. I looked into it and there were complete curriculums for 3 of my 5 preps. Hooray!

I presented them to my admin and used the bad meeting as a way to show them I need more support. {Short note: Although there are many disadvantages in working at a small school, like say, they won't hire another math teacher; they have always supported me with the resources I need and of course, sending me to TMC every year!}

They bought all three.

It has been great so far. {I don't really want to discuss the curriculum, this is a general praise for any curriculum that you don't have to make!}

No curriculum is perfect or complete. But what a curriculum does is give you a foundation.

Before, my lesson planning consisted of opening a blank Word Document, googling a topic, begging on Twitter, and browsing blogs and Pinterest.

Now my lesson planning consists of cutting, copying, and pasting. I started the curriculum halfway through a school year so I can't just go with it. But now my brain has been freed up to make improvements and activities. I don't have to create every single thing so now I have the freedom to create really good things. I've made task cards, dry erase templates, puzzles, and games.

Before I looked at a blank page and thought, how can I fill this? Now, I look at the base and think of how to make it better, how to boost student engagement, how to make it interesting.

It's an important shift.

When you have to create every detail of 5 courses, there isn't always time for creativity and engagement. Sometimes it's just having a worksheet made for all seven periods.

So what I'm saying is this...maybe you can't find or afford your dream curriculum. Maybe you're stuck with a curriculum you don't love. But if you can somehow swing a curriculum to act as your base, your foundation....then you have time and freedom to build.

One good thing at a time.

P.S. If you're an administrator reading this, please please please, make sure all of your teachers have some kind of curriculum provided for them- especially newbies!


Converse, Inverse, Contrapositive Sort

I feel like I got this original file from someone and then changed it to work better for me. If that person is you, go you! All the credit to you.

I used this in the past after introducing the concept of the conditional statements through Sam Shah's great activity found here.

Students cut up these strips:

They look at how the original has changed to form a new statement {and look back at some kind of notes we've taken} and then they place them on the 'mat' {printed on pretty paper} in the correct place.

I show the answers when students are finished.

Students glue to mat, cut out mat, and it all magically fits in the INB.


Function Taboo

I was looking for a way to introduce a bunch of vocab at the beginning of my functions unit and I wanted something fun. I remembered some Taboo cards I had saved but of course, they didn't work for me. So I made my own.

I also don't know why I thought this was going to be a good idea. I guess because my Algebra I students had Algebra I as 8th graders so I thought they would at least be a little familiar with the words.

It started out excruciatingly painful. A few students in a row barely found one card they knew to even begin describing. Then students were using words not related to math at all to describe the math vocab word. It picked up over time but then students started just repeating what previous students had said before so the teams started to guess faster and faster.

I hope you have better luck with them than I did.

I will say that the next day I felt like students knew all the words and maybe some of the definitions. =)

Good luck.


Curriculum Notes

I don't know why I haven't thought of this sooner- probably because I mostly rely on my memory for everything. Even I get surprised at how well my brain works. I can open a document that I used last school year and remember that there was an error on it. Isn't that uncanny?

Anyway, enough bragging about the brain I know and love. This year I decided to make an Excel spreadsheet. Each course has a separate, color-coded tab which matches my teacher INB for each course.

Which is totally on purpose.

Then in each tab I list the units and suggestions for changes I want to make, things that went wrong, things that need to be fixed, or something new I want to add. After the first unit, I decided to start putting the skill number in front of the note so I know exactly what it pertains to. (Click the picture to see it better, sorry it sucks small)

I love that I can use Excel to keep everything organized and only open one file. 

I have a computer than runs my SMART board at the front of the room and then my desk with a laptop at the back. I am rarely at my desk until my plan period. I write an e-mail addressed to myself at my computer in the front and make notes throughout the day of what I need to do on my plan period and for the next day. Even in the middle of a lesson, I can find time to type a little note when something needs to be fixed or changed. Then I send it to myself and accomplish as much as I can on my plan period and the rest after school ends.

My plan is to use this over the summer as a to-do list instead of not doing anything until the week before school and hating my life. 

I don't know how well it will work but it seems a lot more doable to "Make a graph on legal size paper with movable labels for characteristics of a graph" than to make a new lesson from scratch or wonder if I need anything made for that unit. 

Hooray for organizational wins, again!


New Year's Resolutions

Two things I am really committing to for the rest of this school year are:

  1. Less handouts
  2. More VRG

1. I am so concerned about having things prepared for all five preps that I sometimes forget that what I've prepared is super boring. We put notes together in our INB that serve as the students' main resource. Then the handout is supposed to be practice. But why do I always default 'practice' to mean 'handout'?

One easy fix I've used has been to print a template of some sort on card stock and then slip it into a page protector. I make a powerpoint with the problem and solutions. This way students can refer to their notebook, get lots of practice, compare their work to others', and no one gets done way too fast or lags behind. Also I am free to walk around the room and answer questions.

This worked out really well for graphing absolute value equations and then a few days later with function transformations. In the middle of those we did parent functions and I literally apologized for how boring my INB page was {basically me talking at their foreheads while they write}. While thinking about the boringness, I thought of an idea. Next year make a sorting activity where they match  the parent function, graph, and characteristics, Then copy that into their INBs. Sorting = more meaning for them and less talking for me. 

2. Tomorrow is the end of our second week back from break which means Monday we will change seats again. I'm using an interactive page on SMART Notebook to randomly decide groups every two weeks. I'm a little nervous- some students have the potential to act ugly if they sit with someone they don't like. I'm going to try to inspire the best out of them beforehand. Surprisingly, the students who are most ready to switch are in my smallest classes where I thought it wouldn't really matter.

I think I need to work on mixing things up to keep classes engaged and feeling positive and productive. These two resolutions are pretty easy to keep up with.

What one thing has made a positive different in your classroom environment?


Extra Information: Triangle Congruence

I meant to blog about this activity last year and now I've already used it a second time. The activity, pictures, and explanation can all be found here.

My summary: students are given four pieces of information and a congruence postulate/theorem. They mark all four pieces on the triangles then decide which piece was the 'extra' information.

My modifications:

1. I printed the two triangles on pretty card stock for each student and slid it in a page protector so students could mark with dry erase markers then record answers on their paper answer sheet.

2. I made the answer key into a Powerpoint to show students after the activity is complete.

Both years I used this after introducing the triangle postulates and theorems. I started the class by handing each student a triangle with markings (from a Kagan book) and signs hung around the room. They look at their triangle and then go stand in the correct corner. They compare with others in their corner. I check, correct, and then repeat.

Then comes the extra information activity.

Reasons I love it:

  • It's not a handout/worksheet/packet
  • There is movement: students get up to trade bags or retrieve bags from designated home after working each problem
  • They get to use dry erase markers: which translates to 1000 times more productivity
  • It clears up many misconceptions: when to mark tick marks, when to mark rainbows, where to mark tick marks, where to mark rainbows, what order to read the markings in, what each postulate/theorem must have to be correct, how each postulate/theorem can look in different combinations, and how parts of two triangles can match or be matched
  • It helps students get comfortable with determining the correct postulate/theorem
  • It works
  • It's colorful
  • It doesn't involve me talking...or really doing anything
  • It's not a handout/worksheet/packet

If you never clicked the link at the top...you really should. I download all recommended activities even if I don't know when or if I'll use them. You never know what you might need!


Semester Reflection Revisited

I've posted about this project in the past but since I've updated the project, I thought I would revisit the post. Since I am the only math teacher and have the same students 3-4 years in a row, I have to update things often enough that students can't pull out an old essay and turn it in with no effort. Where's the fun in that?

So here is my newest 'rubric':

I've honed this so well that I almost have no questions when students are working on this. The joy of being overly detailed and specific. :-)

 Here are some friendly tips if you ever do a semester paper:

  • Plan one to two days in a computer lab or with devices to make sure everyone can finish
  • Plan on some students using Google Docs so choose your font requirements accordingly
  • Take a basket, hole punch, and stapler with you (if you're in a lab) so that students can turn everything in correctly and neatly; also so you have to less to carry and keep up with
  • Type how you want students to turn in their papers so that your basket, hole punch, and stapler were not carried in vain
  • Send a Remind message out to let students know to go straight to the lab
  • Tell secretaries where you and your classes will be all day
  • Make LOTS of extra copies of your rubric because students who take longer than one class period will lose it
  • Make your rubric and requirements page one and the same
  • Be prepared for answers that are sucking up and answers that are very honest
  • Be open-mind about suggestions students make in their papers
  • Read a few of these a day over your Christmas break so that you won't be overwhelmed by grading
  • Make some personal comments and encouraging remarks; leave the grammar and spell check to English teachers

One of the questions I asked the students was "What are two characteristics every good teacher should have?" I thought it would be interesting to track the results.

I kept most of their wording the same, even though I wanted to group them but I still think the popular answers are pretty clear.

I noticed right away that none, zero, nil, nada, of the responses included anything about the pacing guide, the curriculum, the assessments....you know all the things that I constantly worry about.

This list helped me regain some perspective on what's important. I can always work on my patience and understanding. I can be a good listener and help my students. I can show kindness and respect. 

I can be a good human and teach others how to be a good human in ways that make them feel like good humans....and they might just pick up some math skills too.