I am really feeling bitter toward my job and pretty much never wanting to do it again. I also really want to post a long list of all the things I am bitter about. But that isn't fair to anyone and doesn't help anyone.

I am determined to get back into my daily posting habit on #onegoodthing to help me stay positive and one of my New Year's resolutions is going to be giving at least 5 compliments a day. These are two things that I am in control of and will hopefully help me focus.

In another begrudging effort to also help me focus, I am going to dig deep and write a post about the parts of my job that I am thankful for. Here goes my attempt to begin a daily routine of thanksliving:

  • I have my own classroom to organize and decorate to my heart's content (the thing I wanted most as a child) 
  • Super cute office supplies, especially in chevron, teal, or lime green
  • Free technology: laptops, ipads, SMART boards, Kuta
  • Holidays and weekends off
  • Summer!
  • Snow days!
  • Predictable hours (in the school building of course)
  • It's never boring
  • Getting to constantly be creative: in lessons, in worksheets, in activities, in conversation, in explaining, in literally creating programs, invitations, flyers, events, Prom, Homecoming
  • Building relationships with students (really wish I could just spend all day talking to, asking and answering questions with them)
  • Papermate Flair markers and Pilot FriXion eraseable pens
  • Spirit week dress up days
  • Having a new start every period, day, week, quarter, semester, school year
  • Seeing self-created things go well in the classroom
  • Not having to wear a uniform to work or come home smelling like greasy food
  • Opportunities to make extra money through tutoring, summer school, coaching, subbing, etc
  • Insurance and retirement benefits
  • Direct deposit!
  • Pretty copy paper
  • Ability to requisition school supplies
  • Working less than 5 minutes from home
  • Knowing the entire faculty/staff and and every student in high school
  • Free PD and travel
  • Seeing your thoughts and ideas come to life
  • Not staring at a computer screen all day
  • Having routines
If you notice, most of them don't have do with the actual job of teaching but since that's currently what I am so unhappy with, I guess that's no surprise.

Carry on.


Teaching Data

I'm going to be very transparent here so please don't attack me.

At the end of last school year, I wrote down what the last concept I taught and assessed was for each class period. Here are the results:

1 Hr Geometry Concept 28
3 Hr Geometry Concept 28
4 Hr Algebra I Concept 25
5 Hr Trig Concept 28
6 Hr Algebra II Concept 21
7 Hr Algebra I Concept 21
8 Hr Algebra II Concept 20

How is it that in an entire year I only teach 20-28 concepts? That's 5-7 concepts per quarter which translates to about one concept per week or week and a half. That's terrible. And pretty consistent across all content areas.

Maybe it's the kids? Let's look at the current data for the first quarter.

1 Hr Geometry Concept 7
2 Hr Trig Concept 9
3 Hr Algebra I Concept 6
4 Hr Geometry Concept 7
5 Hr Algebra II Concept 6
6 Hr Algebra II Concept 6
8 Hr Algebra III Concept 6

Multiply those by four quarters and that puts me in the range of 24-36.

So it's not the kids.

Let's look at my teaching. Ideally, I introduce a topic through INB pages/lecture and then a handout/activity that pertains to the notes. Ideally, that means 2-3 days per concept. Which means I should be a lot closer to 50-60 concepts per school year.

I have only done INBs since last year. Let's look at some data from pre-INB

Algebra II Concept 39
Geometry Concept 40

Algebra I Concept 44
Geometry Concept 45
Algebra II Concept 46

I am getting worse over time.

Let's look at some other curriculums. I was recently introduced to the site http://emathinstruction.com that is aligned to Common Core and PARCC standards. Algebra I has 100 lessons. 100! That doesn't even allow for 2 days per concept. Algebra II is 107.

Engage NY Algebra II has 120 lessons and Algebra I has 105.

I am not even teaching 1/4 of what students need to know. But how are students supposed to master concepts in one day?

I have really been downing myself about this for pretty much my whole teaching career. This is the first year I have been able to back it with data but...I am not preparing my students for their futures.

Here are some possible causes:
  • I'm assessing too much. I quiz over every concept and a unit test.
  • Interactive Notebooks are slowing me down. 
  • I'm taking up too much class time with bell ringers.

Now what are the possible solutions?


Becoming a Whole Person

This is year seven of teaching for me and year one of feeling like a whole person.

Over the summer, me and my sister started trying to lose weight together: working out, walking together every day, drinking half our body weight in water, taking weight loss supplements, and buying Fitbits to track our steps and calories.

I also started my own business with the amazing skincare company Rodan and Fields which has opened up a whole new community of people for me to be a part of, new goals for me to accomplish, and new dreams for me to dream.

This school year I have also been posting daily over at the #onegoodthing blog.

So even though I have five preps, one of which is new, a cheerleading squad, and the largest Student Council club I've ever had, it feels like the first year of me being a whole person.

It sounds crazy that adding more and adding new things to my life has made me feel better- but it's true.

Now a bad day at school isn't the end of the world. I focus on the positive things that happened and write about it. After school I go walking and forget about it.

Instead of eating junk food to feel better, I'm tracking my calories to see what I should and shouldn't eat and obsessively checking if I have changed positions in our FitBos group.

Knowing that my whole life doesn't just revolve around teaching helps me not to put so much stress and pressure on myself when things go wrong. It helps me not feel stuck or trapped, it helps me feel happy and content, knowing that there is more to life than the four walls of my classroom.

I am a whole person with interests, hobbies, goals, dreams, and a life. Recognizing that makes me a better person and better teacher. It reminds me that my students are not just consumers of math, but people with interests, hobbies, goals, dreams, and a life. They are on their way to becoming a whole person- and how can I help?


Teaching Tips

I know my title isn't very descriptive but they are are so random that 'tips' is the best I can think of. These are basically things I've just discovered this school year; I'm just excited that I have new tips that I haven't already blogged about.

For the last several years, whenever I make a handout, I also make a matching powerpoint so that students see the same thing on the board as on their paper. And every now and then making these show up and disappear and slide around when necessary. This year I've had trouble with my SMART board letting me write on powerpoints. My tech person found that you can click print on the powerpoint file and select the SMART Notebook Writer (which apparently automatically installs when you install the SMART software) it will copy all of your slides to a notebook file (one slide per page) automatically. I've been using that for the first month or so until I realized, why create a powerpoint at all? I can just print the handout directly to a notebook file and cut out creating a powerpoint file that I can't even use? Duh Ms. Miller.

As much as I love being organized, I've need been able to keep up with a planner. I have a really good memory and it'll be real bad when it starts to fail me. But of course as a teacher, I always have a million things to keep track of. I'm a big fan of post-it notes but they flutter away pretttty easily. My solution thus far (although I am VERY intrigued by bullet journaling) has been email. I start a new email to myself at the beginning of the day basically making notes of things I need to do and also a note of what I plan to do and need to make for each class period. My plan is seventh hour so I accomplish some of the to-do things and sum up what must be done for the next day. Then I just e-mail it to myself so it's on my phone and laptop when I get home. Then I can use the e-mail to start the next day or else I write myself a new one so I know what I need to print and copy.

Another thing that I can't believe I just thought of is my Excel file of curriculum notes. I created a tab for each course (color coded obvi) I have and then headings for each unit. Then as I notice or think of things while teaching, I add them to my notes. These are things I want to change or redo or add to- not really things like grammar or spelling because I try to fix those asap. Since this is the first time I've done this (duh) my plan is to use that this summer to actually be productive in a specific way. And maybe for the first time, not reinvent the wheel. And if I can't get right to the Excel file, I just type it in my email so I remember to do it later.

If you've read my blog for any amount of time, you've probably noticed that I LOVE SORTING. What I've finally realized this year is that when you notice students struggling with something, especially something that seems simple to you, a need has just been created for a sort. One example for me has to do with functions. Students could not seem to tell the difference between f(10) and f(x) = 10, knowing when to plug in and knowing when to solve. Just like that, I knew that next year I needed a sort to keep this confusion from happening. And I just add that to my cute little Excel file.

Consider yourself tipped off.


Rethinking Grading: Ch. 5

Chapter 5: How to Reform Grading: Making Change Happen
Cathy Vatterott

Changes need not be grandiose to have a huge effect on student learning or to improve the accuracy and validity of student grades.

We must decide what we believe about the purpose of grading.

If they believe the purpose of grading is to accurately reflect achievement, then it becomes inconsistent to punish behaviors such as cheating, tardiness, or attendance with grades.

If an individual teacher believes the purpose of grading is to reflect academic achievement only, they could begin by removing nonacademic behaviors from the grade, by no longer grading practice work, and by giving more ungraded formative feedback.

When we agree on purpose, methods follow purpose.

Lesson learned:
One. Start small.
Two. Let it grow.
"Teachers need time to grieve the loss of what they thought was right."
Three. Include all stakeholders.
Four. Create a belief statement or guiding principles.
five. Have a comprehensive communication plan.
Six. Make students and teachers your allies.

When implementation is top-down with no teacher by-in, there's often a limited understanding of the changes and no commitment to the mission. Teachers notoriously find ways around policies they had nothing to do with creating.


Rethinking Grading: Ch. 4

Chapter 4: What, How, and When to Grade
Cathy Vatterott

Pre-tests set the stage, shave instruction for all, and guide individual learning. After the pre--testing process, formative assessment provides feedback to students while they are still learning; summative assessment shows the level of mastery at the end of the learning cycle.

Most teachers of you and formal feedback and formative assessment as two different things. It's easier to think of formative assessment as structured tasks designed by the teacher, results of which may be marked or documented in some fashion, so students and parents can have a record of the students progress toward the learning targets.

Feedback is a two-way recurring conversation between teacher and student.

For teachers to be able to give feedback to students, it is necessary to limit direct instruction enter create activity-based lessons.

All feedback does not have to come from the teacher; peer feedback can also be useful.

As we get targeted feedback to individual student and as they are empowered to learn in their own way, the differences in learners become smaller.

If, after repeated attempts, a student or group of students has failed to master a learning target we must take a fearless inventory of our instructional process and ask yourself these questions;
What's their level of learning properly diagnosed with pretesting?
What's the feedback about learning timely specific and helpful?
Did our differentiation move the student or group of students forward?

Using the result of a pre-test, feedback, or formative or summative assessment, teachers can identify patterns in the students work or clusters of student need. Students can then be organized into two or more groups for ungraded group learning the activities at each table are based on the errors that students made on the form of assessment.

In a purely standards-based grading system, only summative assessment counts in the final grade.

Typically formative assessments are evaluated and descriptive feedback is given to the learner, such as with practice tests.

Ungraded practice tests are especially beneficial to learn as they Activate "retrieval learning" and strengthen the connections in the brain.

One technique for practice test is called "find it and fix it." Rather than marking the answers that are incorrect, the teacher notes to the student, "five of these are incorrect; find them and fix them". This requires a student to reengage with the questions and precipitates a lot of learning.

Mastery checks: these assessments are written using three levels: green, yellow, and red. The green level questions are basic skill problems and didn't really require only one or two steps to solve. Yellow level questions require multiple steps and or multiple ideas to solve. The red level questions are generally questions of the students have never seen before, requiring them to go beyond knowledge they have obtained and\or apply the knowledge to a new situation. Students are expected to attend all three levels of questions. Their answers help the teacher to determine the students his level of mastery.

The current consensus is that homework should be formative assessment the checks for understanding or that helps prepare students for summative assessments. Therefore, and I truly standards-based system, homework should not be graded. Standards-based policies usually state that homework will be reviewed and feedback will be given, but not counted in the grade.

The final achievement of learning is more important than the steps it took to get there.

Formative assessment is assessment for learning and occurs when there is still time to improve. Summative assessments are assessment of learning that occur the end of a predetermined learning cycle, after learning has taken place.

How in assessment is used is what determines whether it is formative or summative.

Students who eventually achieve mastery should not be penalized for earlier struggles.

The most recent evidence of learning is the most accurate and grades should be replaced by the most recent evidence.

Student should never be allowed to retest without showing additional evidence that they have mastered the concept that caused him to do poorly on the original assessment.

Remember that our goal is to minimize the number of retakes a student needs to show mastery.

We want to hoops to result in additional learning, not just for students to complete missing work.

Feedback is free help-there is no grade or Mark associated with feedback.

Formative assessments give students multiple opportunities to improve, free from the threat of grades while they are still learning, and summative assessments verify and report their learning progress.


Rethinking Grading: Ch. 3

Chapter 3: What Grading Looks Like in the Standards-Based Classroom
Cathy Vatterott

The standard show us the results that we want students to achieve. We then work backwards from those results to create more specific learning targets. We synthesize or unpack the standards into learning targets, usually written as "I can" or "We can" statements.

But when we organize individual targets into lesson-sized tasks, keeps them separately, and assess them separately, students may fail to see the relevance and connection. A better method is to group targets together so that several targets may be addressed by the same activity.

Self assessment is formative assessment-it should always focus on improving the students progress toward the learning target, not I'm getting a better grade.

Learning is not so much instruction or a lesson to be taught, as an activity to be experienced.

I never heard of a student not doing *his* work; it's *our* work he's not doing.

If we want to encourage students to view mistakes as a necessary step in learning, we need to remove the threat of grading while they are learning.

Grades are not necessary for learning, but feedback is. In fact, feedback has been shown to be one of the most effective strategies to improve learning.


Rethinking Grading: Ch. 2

Chapter 2: Why We Need a New Grading Paradigm
Cathy Vatterott

Treating all students the same resulted in a certain percentage of students who failed.

Instead of teach, test, and MoveOn and one large group, learning is a series of mastery's for individual students-teach, check for understanding, apply learning, get feedback, revise learning, and get more feedback until mastery is achieved.

Unlike the old paradigm of one-shot learning, a feedback loop exist that makes learning dynamic-feedback to the students informed their learning and teachers change instruction as they see what individual students need.

Within the traditional grading paradigm, it's not safe to make mistakes. In a traditional paradigm, failure is a judgment and a validation of her students lack of ability.

Learning is hard and frustrating, but ultimately achievable and satisfying. Mistakes are a natural part of learning and mistakes or something you do, not something you are. Lack of understanding is a puzzle to be solved-not a validation of stupidity.

As grades are used to punish behaviors, they overshadow the grades students receive for learning.

In the traditional grading paradigm, when teachers grade everything, the grade means nothing.

When first attempts, including practice, are graded and went all grades are permanent, students are penalized while they are still learning. Mistakes are permanently recorded and there is no redemption.

If you have a bad week practicing, you don't show up on Friday night with -5 on the scoreboard. The only way to win the game is to get better at the learning.


Rethinking Grading: Ch. 1

Chapter 1: The Culture of Grading
Cathy Vatterott

But teachers intervene-they teach with the goal of having all students learn. "If the distribution of student learning after teaching resembles a normal bell-shaped curve, that, too, shows the degree to which our intervention failed. It made no difference."

Belief #1: Good Teachers Give Bad Grades
As teachers, we bought into the idea that a bell curve indicated rigor and misinterpreted it to be a rule to follow. We came to believe that of success were scarce and great spell into a bell curve then we were tough teachers.

Grade inflation is the arrive from the belief that rigor equals a scarcity of high grades and that the purpose of grading is to sort and rank.

Rigor and difficulty was often equated to the amount of work done by students rather than the complexity and challenge of the work.

Such practices reinforce the belief that some students could not learn and perpetuated a system that not only allowed four but actually expected failure. In many ways, sorting and ranking practices institutionalized failure and conveniently of dissolved teachers of the responsibility for student failure.

Belief #2: Not Everyone Deserves an A

Many people feel strongly that grades reflect more than learning. We review grades as a package deal; to succeed, seras must have it all-academic achievement and moral virtues.

Belief #3: Grades Motivate Learners

The first misconception is that learning is only a means to an end-to escape punishment or get a reward, the learning has no intrinsic value, and that students would not be interested in learning for its own sake.

The second misconception is that a single entity called motivation exists, the students either have it or don't have it, and it can be manipulated by external forces.

The third misconception is that the most effective method is the use of rewards and or punishment and that grades are in effect the reward and or punishment for all students.

Our believes have led to an abuse of grades.

Students have come to believe that effort however week, not learning, earns them the A.

And our relentless pursuit of the almighty A and the perfect GPA, something got lost-learning.

Reality Check #1: NCLB

This was a foreign concept to teachers-we had never been expected to ensure that all students were proficient. We didn't know how to do that. We were not even sure that it was possible.

NCL be exposed a dirty little secret-graves don't equate with performance on standardized test.

Accountability for learning demands grades that are reflective of learning.

Reality Check #2: Grades Are Misleading About Succeeding

A puzzling example is that good grades in high school and students cheaper car insurance. Why-because good students are safer drivers or because good grades mean you are an accomplished rule-follower who will follow the rules of the road?

We thought that we were rewarding the right thing-completion of tasks, compliance, promptness. But in that process if we devalued mastery of deep conceptual learning, we have hampered students his future success. Maybe the grading practices that we thought were preparing students for the future really weren't.

Reality Check #3: The Common Core State Standards Changed Everything

Although standards and standardized test has supposedly driven instruction for years, we now see that we have been focusing too much on low-level rote learning.

Too often, we have neither allowed nor expected students to think. We have filled her head with facts and formulas and reward them for restarting it. We have done the analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating instead of expecting our students to do it. We have done too much of the work of learning, perhaps because we didn't trust him to want to do the work, or perhaps because we weren't sure they were able to do the work.

To successfully navigate the standards, student grades will need to reflect mastery of skills, not memory of content.

Today we must prepare them for a world in which they must know how to take initiative, self-advocate, solve problems, be creative, and accomplish tasks without minute-to-minute supervision.


Rodan + Fields

I have just accepted a new business opportunity with the #4 largest premium skincare company in the U.S., made by the same doctors who created Proactiv.

These products are high quality, clinical products that last 60+ days and have a empty bottle guarantee: if you use it for 60 days and are not satisfied, you can get a full refund. And less than 1% return!

If you are someone who visits the dermatologist, gets Botox, takes prescription acne medication, has wrinkles, has sun spots or sun damage, has crow's feet, has eczema, buys anti-aging products or if you HAVE SKIN, we have something for you!

Here is a quick overview of the main regimens:

I didn't even know you could get rid of freckles!

Look at some of these results:

I don't know about you but I've definitely been made fun of for my own skin problems. As an adult, it can be even more embarrassing or feel unprofessional- like you aren't taking care of your skin.

I am excited for this new adventure and just like I love to share what I learn in math and teaching, I want to share what I learn about improving my skin.

Healthy skin never goes out of style!

I would love to answer any questions you have or help you on the path of amazing skin and amazing results!

(This blog will still be about math but I couldn't hold back my excitement; math teachers want nice skin too!)

And the best thing about doing this business:
  • NO parties
  • NO deliveries
  • NO inventory
  • Did I say NO parties already?
You basically spend time using awesome products and then posting your awesome results on social media.

I could keep going but I'll stop there! Thanks for reading!

Calculator Steps

I've been procrastinating this post forever because I wanted to have it done in a notebook with color coding for you to see- but that didn't work out.

But my activity still has value and should be shared so here it is:

I printed calculator steps on these randomly sized labels I had in my filing cabinet and printed them IN COLOR:

We stuck the top two on the left hand page and the bottom two on the right hand page in our INBs. This is important because the colors start over on the right hand page.

The words that are in color match up with buttons on this TI-84 calculator template:

In our carts we have skinny markers so I purposely used the colors I knew we had. They colored the button on the calculator that matches the colored words.

We tape the calculator template with one piece of tape at the top over the sticker so that we could flip it up.

Here are pictures but they are not perfect- I messed up some and I had to change yellow to gray because duh, they were coloring on yellow paper. I outlined on one page and filled in on the other so students could choose which method they preferred. I also literally held this page up as they were taping so they knew EXACTLY what I wanted.

Here's the clencher:

The Calculator Handout (h/t to Julie Wright for page three)

You would think that after all that coloring they would have actually read some words on the paper...NOPE!

So now on the handout, this is a MUST....you must answer every question with one of the following:

"Look in your notebook."
"Read the directions."

Be as unhelpful as possible. In the beginning of the year, this is where you set the precedent for using the notebook as a tool.

They'll ask you what to round to, if they need to reduce, etc etc.

Be consistent! Only help if their calculator is wonky and you need to reset something.

I had an answer key ready to go and let them check their work when they were done.

While they are working, take a minute to look around and feel satisfied as they stare intently at their papers and type on their calculators and look so focused- who knows when you might see that again!



Ask BetterQs!

Questioning is one skill I pride myself on doing well in the classroom. I think it's a fairly easy skill to develop and at no cost to me. =)

Questioning is how I learn from others and how I learn about myself. I am very analytical and I am always asking myself questions to figure out why I feel, think, and act the way I do. Very meta, I know.

Since that skill is so embedded in me personally, it definitely comes out in the classroom. It's also my favorite thing to suggest to other teachers. Better questioning is one easy way to create depth in any lesson.

Some of my favorite questions are:
  • What do you notice?
  • What would happen if we changed this to.....?
  • What should we do next?
  • How can we start?
  • What type of answer do we expect to get?
  • How do you know that is the right answer?
  • How did you get that?
  • Why?
  • Can you explain?
  • Can you elaborate?
  • How do you picture this in your brain?

One goal I would like to work on this year is asking better questions by asking more open ended questions that promote more whole class discussion and debate.

If this resonates with you as well, I have a great resource to share with you!

@samjshah and @rdkpickle have created a collaborative space where we can both share and read about better questioning,

There's already quite a few posts and here is the first one from me!

Add it to your reader as a reminder to yourself to read, reflect, and continue working on your craft.

Be a betterT who asks #betterQs (check out our hashy)!


End of Course Exams (PARCC version)

I don't know about you but every year I end the school year feeling like I did not do a good job of preparing my students.

Common Core standards became a thing during my second year of teaching. We were lucky enough to have a school improvement grant and I had an instructional coach. She had me cut up the standards and arrange them into courses in the best way I knew how.

So you see, I've never really taught without the Common Core standards looming over me. I wasn't set in my ways and I didn't have a set curriculum. It's not that it was hard for me to change, it's that I didn't know what to change.

I've always felt like I was missing this foundation of knowledge of what to teach so I didn't know what to change. And I still feel as though I do not understand the standards. They seem vague to me and I don't understand exactly what they're asking for. I just want someone to tell me specificly what to teach and then give me the freedom to teach it the way I want.

But alas, that does not exist. I'm the only high school teacher in my school and in my district so I really do feel like an island just floating out here, wondering if I will ever end up in the right location.

This year I decided to use the PARCC EOY Practice Assessment as a guide. I worked through them and they were very hard. There were problems I didn't know how to do on all of them. I actually still haven't finished the Algebra II test because I ended up crying and get a frustration headache and going to sleep. I would say lol except I definitely was not.

Anyway, I decided to try using the Algebra I and Geometry tests for my end of course exams. I changed the test some so that all questions are multiple choice and so that it is no longer a 54 page document...25 pages is plenty.

I'm scared about using them, especially since they have 45-50 questions but I can't just wander into my students being prepared. I have to take some kind of action.

I wanted to share my work with you in case anyone else could also use these and save themselves some time.

Here is Algebra I (answer keys included):

And Geometry:


Collaboration Is Hard

This year I teach one Algebra I course (ninth grade) and the middle school teacher teaches another section of the same course. It's the first time I've taught the same course with someone. We also have the same plan period. Which I thought was planned but turns out it just randomly worked out that way.

She wants our course to be identical and I do too. But I decided this was the year to use a PARCC End of Year Practice Assessment as my EOC. And I decided to work on that the week before school started. I used the test to create a list of standards.

Here's the ROUGH draft:

But now she is expecting me to magically have a curriculum created to share with her...which I would love....which I don't have.

She's been asking me a lot of questions about what I teach and why I choose that order and and what does that really mean and....I realized this is the first time I've been held accountable by someone. It's the first time I've had to explain and defend my decisions. It makes me rethink my decisions. It makes me notice and wonder. It makes me feel even more behind, knowing someone is depending on me.

It's hard. I don't like it,

What year do you quit starting over from scratch?


How to not Suck.

After asking students to write their opinions of "How to not Suck" as a teacher, I decided to put them into Wordle and see what popped out.

So, not as cool as expected. They are so small that you can't even read the majority of them.

Some of them were so simple and made me so sad:

  • Be nice
  • Don't yell
  • Help when needed
  • Don't embarrass me

What kind of teachers have they experienced in the past that make them feel like these need to be written down? 

I just want to pause and think of how little they are asking of me and how much I ask of them.

My favorite one of all:

Be interested.

I think teachers overlook the best resource for growth and improvement on a daily basis: asking their students. I LOVE asking for student input and doing student surveys. I have a great time seeing the world through my student's eyes.

Students are baby humans who just want to be valued and appreciated, much like the way we want our teaching and classrooms to be valued and appreciated.

What would make students listen more, participate more, understand more? Ask them.

No, really. Ask them.

They are ready and willing to be as honest as you will allow.


First Days 2015-2016

Yesterday was my first day back with students. First hour I had to go over the student handbook and pass out forms and schedules and etc. Then I had second hour through fifth hour, lunch, and then sixth hour for 15 minutes and an early dismissal.

Hate! I want to have all my classes on the first day. So dumb to not see all of them because whatever you do, you have to repeat or be behind. I literally did not decide what to do until like 1:00 in the morning. Thanks Laurie!

I used her survival game idea but I want you to just read her post. Let's just say it starts with the pilot episode of Lost which is one of my favorites-  how could it go wrong? Oh maybe if your Internet on your SMART board computer decides to stop existing! I adapted by having students just crowd around my laptop and watch. lol

Today we started setting up our binders- Washi tape on the spine, colored cardstock hole punched, and sticky tabs labeled with Bell Ringers, Handouts, Quizzes, Tests. I sell composition notebooks to my students because most of them won't get them otherwise.

I print out my Remind number and code onto mailing labels for each class and passed those out.

I'm trying a new idea this year with my dry erase markers. Last year I kept them in the drawers of a cart but people ended up destroying them. This year I gave each person their own marker to keep in their folder. I'm hoping they will last until Christmas at least!

Then we tried Kahoot! for the first time. I used the survey option and started out asking them how they feel about math and learning and such and then transitioned into procedural questions. I put in funny answer choices and we had a lot of laughter. It worked well with incoming freshman all the way to my seniors. Here is the link if you're interested.

Then I did a short powerpoint. Here's the subtitles:

  • How to not Suck
  • How to be Awesome
  • Why I'm Awesome

That transitioned into this handout where they tell me "How to not Suck" as a teacher and "Why I'm Awesome" about themselves.

I really had so much fun today with my students and I highly attribute it to Glenn Waddell's high-fives. I high-fived EVERY student yesterday and today. Almost all of them immediately smile; it's like an automatic side effect. I DON'T KNOW WHY IT'S SO FUN BUT IT IS.

It makes me feel awesome inside and it forces me to make contact with each individual student. For some, it might be the only physical contact they have. If I miss kids at the door, I just walk in and high-five them. My freshman boys think it's funny to try to get past me without doing it but I just block the door until they surrender. It's all in the hips!

I kinda doubt you can use any of this stuff for yourself but maybe it will spark something fun for you to do. I had a great day and I hope you did too!


2015-2016 New Year's Resolutions

I wrote earlier in my #TMC15 Takeaways post about new things I plan to do in the classroom this year so this is leaning more toward the personal side of teaching.

  • I will practice better self-care.
    • I looked angry a lot last year and had little patience because I did not have good sleeping habits. Students shouldn't have to deal with my bad choices.
    • Drink more water. I'm not letting myself leave school until I've emptied my 60 ounce container.
    • Keep exercising. I've been using the Swork It App and the FitBit app to workout, walk, and count calories. I need to feel strong and healthy and model that for students.
    • I will better balance my life so that school doesn't take over all of my emotions.
    • I will work on looking happier and interacting with students in more positive ways- like 100% high-fiving!
  • I will practice integrating more technology when needed.
    • Last year I printed out Plickers for every students and we NEVER used them all year long. This year I plan to use them and Kahoot within the first week as well as continuing to use Remind and Instagram.
  • I will practice my mantra of 'letting my pile of good things grow'.
    • I will celebrate and acknowledge one good thing with my students on a regular basis.
    • I will celebrate and acknowledge my one good thing by blogging.
  • I will forgive myself for not being a perfect teacher.
    • I invest 100% of myself, my time, and my talents. Over time, good things will come from that and grow and grow. I cannot blame myself for not already having 30 years of experience.
    • My value as a teacher is based on the impact I have on student lives, not their PARCC and ACT scores.
  • I will keep learning.
    • I will keep asking math questions that I don't know the answers to.
    • I will keep reading and learning about my craft.
    • I will not let teaching absorb so much of me that I push learning off until the summer.
  • I will give myself permission to mess up.
    • No one will die if I make a bad decision.
    • I will value my mistakes and the mistakes of others as a step toward learning.
  • I will focus on growth over perfection.
    • Did I leave my students, my classroom, and my school better than I found them?
    • Did try new things?
    • Did I fix any previous problems?
    • Progress is progress, no matter how small.

I will be more awesome!


Year 7.

Today was my first day back of year seven. We start at 1 with meetings until 4:45, we eat, then 5:30-7:00 is Back to School Night with parents rotating through sessions.

If your Back to School Night is well planned and well attended, be grateful. The end.

As always, my classroom is my happy place and my home away from home so it has to reflect me and that means chevron! Color coordinating! Organization! Clean! Shiny! Smelly good! Clutter free!

Here's what my classroom looks like:





Here's what my class schedule looks like:

1 Geometry (17)
2 Trig (8)
3 Algebra I (13)
4 Geometry (14)
5 Algebra II (7)
6 Algebra II (20)
7 Plan
8 Algebra III (7) a.k.a. the made up name for the made up class I'm teaching for the first time.

Here's what my back to school outfit looks like:

Good night and a great year to everyone.

Don't forget to be more awesome!


Math Symbols Test

Again, inspired by Sarah Hagan, she posted some math symbols posters that made me think how much math is like a new language and a lot can be lost in the technicalities of those symbols. And there is much to be gained with precision.

Since my room was freshly painted this year, I am hesitating to hang any posters at all (it's so nice and clean) and plus I hate clutter.

So in my theme of math tools from my previous post and in building the importance of their INB as a tool to constantly refer to, I decided to make a Math Symbol INB activity.

Here's the plan. First, give them this multiple choice handout to complete alone.

Then let them compare with others and discuss. After that, I will give the correct answers.

Now comes the fun part. I will tell them they now have to use the correct answers to create their own type of study guide. That's right, there will be a test!

Here's a quick list of things they could create:

The point is they have freedom to come up with anything they want that will help them learn and retain the meaning of the symbols. I think it sets the tone for the year in many ways.

Like learning a language:
  • math is hard
  • it takes effort
  • there are weird symbols
  • immersion is a great way to learn
  • if you don't use it, you'll lose it
  • everyone learns in different ways
  • no one can understand it for you

Like the classroom culture I want to maintain and build:
  • there is room for creativity
  • we celebrate multiple and unique methods
  • it's not a race
  • it can be fun
  • you can learn hard things
  • we are always learning

Then I plan to take pictures of whatever they come up with and add those to their INB along with this handout as a reference.

Please let me know if you see any errors!


Tools of Math Destruction

This will be my third year using Mental Math Mondays, as I mentioned in my Bell Ringers 2.0 post. It's my favorite and it's my way of spiraling before I knew what that was. All the questions are middle school content and students remember learning the concepts but not exactly how to do them.

Since last year was my first year doing INBs, it didn't take students long to point out how nice it would be to have something in their notebook to help them with MMM. Which means they were in the habit of looking in their notebooks yayyyyy.

I promised them I would but let that slide to the back of my mind until I saw Sarah's Math Tools post. I stole some of it from hers and the rest is based off the questions asked in MMM and anything I felt like I had to repeat all year. Like what order the quadrants are named in or which sign means greater than.

Now I can be less helpful in so many more ways! (cackles)

These will probably be the first four pages in their INB (after a ToC). Last year I did learning styles and some other stuff that we never looked at again. So we'll start with this and add in some calculator stuff- you know things that are actually useful.

Do you see anything I'm missing or any errors? Their notebooks have a multiplication chart, some conversions, and something else pre-printed on the back cover so I didn't put those here.

What things do you wish students knew how to do on calculators (TI-83/84)?

For me the most common things are graphing equations, square roots, exponents, cube root, entering data in lists, trace, and tables.


Interactive Notebooks: DIY Tabs, Table of Contents, and Notebook Checks

Last year, the ToC for my INB were pretty plain:

After seeing Sarah's newer version, I decided to make my own new version.

I usually do 4-6 concepts per unit. I loved Sara's idea for page numbers. I put boxes underneath the concept title so students can track their grades, I haven't decided yet how I want to grade but if I revert to what I did last year those spaces will be for quizzes, quiz retakes, and tests.

Next I've had a lot of questions about how I keep students accountable for keeping up their notebooks.

First of all, I don't grade them. I do notebook/binder checks about four times a year. Here's what that looks like:

I cut these in half and give them to each student. They write their name on Binder Owner. Then I make them rotate in some way and sit at someone else's desk. Now they write their name on Binder Checker. Then they go through and check for what I've asked for. Sometimes I give them red pens to make sure no one erases anything. The rest is pretty self-explanatory. They go back to their seat and look at their score, then I collect.

If students question their score I check it myself or if things seem suspicious I check myself. Otherwise, they are motivated to keep up with their notebooks because I let them use them on tests. This is what we do in class so they don't get an option to not participate, Just like any class work we do, no one gets to do nothing.

Lastly, unit tabs. I feel like I got this file from someone maybe but I also feel like I later decided to make my own.

I made enough tabs for each student in every class plus myself for my example notebooks. That's how many cells you need in the table. Then right click on the table, click AutoFit, then select Fixed Column Width. No matter what you type, the cells will not expand so that every tab is the same width.

The first unit tab for every class was yellow. So I typed the title of the first unit for every course into one document. It was only two pages for about 95 students. Then I printed those on yellow paper. I laminated at home because my laminate is thicker than at school. And finally the dreaded task.....cutting. That sucked but that's what Netflix is for! I separated them by course and then stored them in snack size ziplock bags. Students taped them on the same page as the table of contents which was always on the RHP with a blank LHP.

And of course the Table of Contents was yellow too. Use two pieces of tape on the tab itself. Two is important!! Only one and it will fall out.

Finished product:

Kids reallllly liked the tabs. If they didn't get one or lost it they were on me about getting them one. And they're just pretty!

make things pretty + make pretty things


Remind App

I LOVE the Remind App and I use it often. I know we've talked about it on Twitter some but it seems like more of my blog readers are not my Twitter friends. I wanted to share how I use it in case someone hasn't heard of it yet.


  • students just need to text a code to a number (don't need a smartphone or the app)
  • students cannot reply to me
  • students don't see my number and I don't see theirs
  • no messages can ever be deleted
  • every message is saved to your message history
  • you can have multiple classes
  • you can schedule your messages to send at a normal person time
  • you can include emojis, pictures, links, and calendar events
  • you can send messages from website or app
  • easily delete students out of class lists

  • there is a chat feature which I do not think is appropriate but I have never turned it on or used it
  • tweeted Remind company about this and they defended their choice which made me unhappy
  • every tine students get new numbers they have to subscribe again (it can't be helped but still annoying)

Set up:
  • I print my Remind code and numbers (different code for each class period, cheerleading, and Student Council onto address labels that I give to students on the first day. They stick it on everything from notebooks, to phones, to clothes, to body parts, but it gives them *less* of an excuse to forget.

Ways I've Used It:
  • Class- reminders for every quiz and test, reminders of early dismissals, threats reminders of when I am absent and they have a sub, reminders to buy composition notebooks at the beginning of school, reminders about progress reports and exams, answer math trivia questions for candy (to motivate subscribing at the beginning)
  • As a Student Council Sponsor- reminders of when applications are due, reminders of meetings, reminders to all students of assemblies/school events/ dress up days, open-ended questions for members to think about before next meeting, reminders to get permission slips signed
  • As a Cheer Coach- reminders of practice. weekend or holiday games, reminders to get physicals and insurance forms turned in, reminders for money due dates, reminders of what to bring to games

Ways I've Heard of Using It
  • Principals having staff subscribe and sending out reminders
  • Committees using it to send out reminders
  • Teachers creating separate parent groups
  • Teachers having parents also subscribe to class group

Ask me questions!


Class Competition

I tried something like this two years ago and then last year the students asked me why I stopped. I thought it was a failure but they thought it was fun? It involved hundreds of laminated little game pieces, flags on the wall, and leveling up.

I guess I get so stuck on this idea because I'm somewhat of a grades "purist"- I think grades should only be about content, like quizzes and tests. I don't think students should earn grades for being organized or responsible or showing up.

But I do think they should be held accountable in some way. Colleagues of mine get reallllll hung up on daily points and homework grades. My thinking is to make a list/chart and keep data without putting it in the grade book.

I just want to keep my list/chart in the form of a scoreboard for a competition between classes. If you're going to keep data and compare, why not have some fun with it?

Here are my ideas so far for ways to win points every week:
  • Class with best attendance percentage
  • Class with highest score on Mental Math Mondays
  • Class with least amount of borrowed pencils (lol, gotta do something!)
  • Class with highest average (Is that a good or bad idea?)

Bonus Opportunities
  • When a student asks a really good question (since that's my major focus this year)
  • Class that brings the most Kleenex
  • Class that gets their Composition Notebooks the quickest
  • Class that texts my Remind app the quickest
  • Class that dresses up the most during Spirit Week

I want to have a cool scoreboard either on PowerPoint or SMART Notebook so I can update scores and they can see how they compare. I'd like to post it in the classroom but I feel like that would be to tempting for students to mess with.

And of course the point of all of this....what is the prize?

The winning class is going to get an awesome afternoon toward the end of school. My plan is food and drink and go outside and do water stuff...water balloons, giant slip and slide, water guns, etc.

I think it sounds awesome. But first I have to get it approved. 

I would love your input and opinions or if you have an awesome scoreboard thing already created :)
I also need an awesome name for this competition. Ideas so far: Survivor Games, Math Wars, Math Games. 

Should I make a list of ways to earn points for each student? Or make a poster? Or make a giant wheel of points that they spin each time they win for a random amount of points?  I have this awesome magnetic spinner that I can't wait to use!