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Showing posts from September, 2014

If I Weren't Afraid

We made it!

I cannot believe tomorrow is October 1.  The first 2 months of school have flown by.

TeachThought's Reflective Teacher 30-Day Blog Challenge comes to a close.  I haven't blogged every day, but I did answer 25 out of the 30 prompts.  That's not too bad!

Today's question is, "What would you do (as a teacher) if you weren't afraid?"

If I weren't afraid, I would go completely to standards-based grading (SBG)/flipped mastery.  My grading scale would be A, B, C, and Not Yet. Percentages/number grades would not exist.

What am I afraid of?  All I know is percentage grades.  It's the way I was taught, it is the way I was taught to teach, it is the way I've always taught.  It's all my students and their parents know and understand.

I'm afraid of time.  What if a student NEVER masters a particular standard?  What if many students don't get to many of the standards (that they are tested on AND expected to know in the next course)?

I'm Not Who I Once Was

Welcome to Day 29 of TeachThought's Reflective Teacher 30-Day Blog Challenge!

Today's prompt:
How have you changed as an educator since you first started?

I'm not sure this question is fair for those of us who number our years of teaching in the decades.

How have I NOT changed?

I still feel sorry for the students I had my first year of teaching (1993-1994).  I was not much older than them, I was easily intimidated by them, I was unsure of myself and afraid of making mistakes.  I changed course frequently and suddenly as I tried to decide the best content to teach and how to teach it.

I have 2 distinct chapters to my teaching career: six years teaching geometry at the high school and ten years teaching eighth grade at the junior high (I took five years off with my kids in between).

I am a different teacher now than I was when I came back to teaching ten years ago.  Twenty-one years ago seems like a different lifetime.

So, saying I've changed is stating the obvious, but …

Technology vs. Curriculum

It's Day 28!  I can't believe the 30-Day Reflective Teacher Blog Challenge by TeachThought is almost over.

Today's prompt:
Should technology drive curriculum, or vice versa?

I see technology as a tool.  A supplement.  Something that enhances what is already happening in the classroom.

But not a necessity.

A good teacher can be effective without technology.  Students can learn what they need to learn without technology.

Technology gives more options.  Can be more engaging for today's tech-savvy students.  Allows faster research and global connections and interesting simulations.

Until the day it's not working.

And then the teacher works his or her magic and has an effective lesson anyway.

I don't think technology or curriculum is the driving force in the classroom.  I think the teacher drives it all.  A good teacher works wonders whatever the curriculum or available technology.

Weekends and Holidays

Day 27 prompt for TeachThought's 30-Day Reflective Teacher Blog Challenge:

What role do weekends and holidays play in your teaching?

I have found that it is very important for my mental, emotional, and physical health that I get some rest each week.  I need time to rest and recharge to be at my best.

I *try* to take one day each weekend - Saturday, usually - as a "school-free" day.  It is also beneficial if that day is spent at home with some sleeping in and reading and mindless TV.

Emphasis on the word "try."  Being the mom of two active teenagers and the sponsor of two competitive academic school activities, it's not always possible to take Saturday "off."  But I do better the following week if I get that day.

I will occasionally plan lessons or grade papers on Saturday, if it strikes my fancy.

Sunday mornings are spent at church.  That time spent in studying and worship is very important in getting me through the work week.

Sunday afternoons an…

My Go-To Sites

I'm behind!  It's been a busy weekend, and I haven't had a chance to respond to any of TeachThought's prompts for a few days.

So, a few short posts to get caught up.  I want to finish the month strong!

The prompt for Day 26 of the 30-Day Reflective Teacher Blog Challenge was:
What are your three favorite go-to sites for helps/tips/resources in your teaching?

I visit TeachersPayTeachers several times a week.  I find many, many resources there I use in class. Task cards, lessons, scavenger hunts, sorts, etc.  Resources there are inexpensive, and many are free. The activities are engaging, and my students enjoy practicing concepts in varying ways.  I have no idea how the teachers of TpT have or find time to create activities and make a business out of it, but I am thankful they do.

Pinterest is my second go-to site.  I follow several teachers (most whose blogs I read).  I get ideas for foldables for my interactive notebooks, lesson ideas, inspirational or informational ar…

Is There Any Doubt?

I've been looking forward to today's TeachThought Reflective Teacher Blog Challenge prompt:

Which learning trend captures your attention the most, and why?

Since the name of my blog is "Mrs. Gibbs Flips Algebra 1," there's probably little question as to which learning trend intrigues me the most.

This blog started because of the flipped learning trend.  Until the 30-Day Blog Challenge, ALL the posts were about flipped learning. And after the 30-Day Challenge the posts will return to the subject of flipped learning.

I talk a LOT about my flipped classroom, but I don't mind at all talking about it some more.  I want to keep spreading the news!

I first heard of flipped lessons from our district tech coordinator when all teachers got iPads in the spring of 2013.  I thought, "Hmmm....Sounds neat, but how could that ever happen?"  It was mentioned again last year when our middle and high schools went 1:1 with iPads.  Same thoughts.

Something clicked for m…

Involving the Community

We're entering the final week of TeachThought's Reflective Teacher 30-Day Blog Challenge!

Today's prompt:  "Write about one way you meaningfully involve the community in the learning in your classroom. If you don't yet do so, discuss one way you could get started."

I have to admit I'm one of the "don't yet do so" teachers.

But I have thought about this from time to time, and the way I see to start is with the parents of my students.

The question I hear most often is, "When are we ever gonna use this?!?!"  Boy, if I had a nickel for every time I've been asked that....

I have what I think is a good answer:  I doubt any future employer of my students is going to ask them to solve an equation or factor a trinomial.  But will these future employees need to know how to think?  How to organize information?  How to recognize patterns?  How to persevere through a challenging problem?  Yes!  And that's what I'm really trying to d…

My (Growing) PLN

After taking the weekend off, I am back for Day 22 of TeachThought's Reflective Teacher 30-Day Blog Challenge.

Today's prompt:  What does your PLN look like, and what does it do for your teaching?

I'm not sure I knew what a PLN (Personal Learning Network) was before I joined Twitter last year. But I have one, and it's growing!

My PLN starts with my school. I've already blogged how the other ladies in my department are always teaching me.  The rest of my colleagues are also rich sources of ideas and inspiration.

My PLN then extends to the rest of my system.  I have learned things from teachers in every school in my system, as well as administrators in the central office.

In the last couple of years I have found many math teachers' blogs.  Blogs such as Math Equals LoveEquation Freaki is a number, and several others have shown me new and innovative ways to explain and present material, and many activities I do with my students come from something I read on a …

Tools for Student Reflection

It's Day 19!  I can't believe we're in the second half of September.  Time flies when you're having fun, I guess.

Today's prompt by TeachThought for the 30-Day Blog Challenge is, "Name three powerful [ways] students can reflect on their learning, then discuss closely the one you use most often."

I primarily use 3 different tools for student reflection.

"Exit Slips" allow students to show if they have mastered a skill we've been learning.  They work a few problems, I check their work and make notes, and then I return the slips to them. We discuss issues either individually, in small groups, or as a class.

I use "Quick Writes" for students to tell me in words HOW to do a process. Being able to move from numbers and symbols to words is very important in a student's understanding of mathematics. I try to refine a student's mathematical vocabulary as I look through "Quick Writes."

My favorite tool for student reflectio…

Teaching Is....

It's Day 18 of TeachThought's Reflective Teacher 30-Day Blog Challenge!

"Create a metaphor/simile/analogy that describes your teaching philosophy."

When discussing unmotivated and/or unwilling students, you will often hear frustrated teachers say, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink."  Somewhere I have read an addition to this saying:  "You can, however, make it thirsty!"

That's my philosophy.  My job.  Make students thirsty.  Make them curious.  Make them feel secure so they are willing to take a risk.

The drinking of the water...the learning...will follow.  Whether or not the students were originally motivated or willing.

The Most Challenging Issue In Education Today

I read through all of TeachThought's prompts as the 30-Day Reflective Teacher Blog Challenge began.

There are many challenges facing education today.  Money.  Philosophy.  Policy.  Students whose needs - physical, mental, emotional - are not being met at home.

Soon after I was reading a blog that gave the perfect answer to the question, "What do you think is the most challenging issue in education today?"  I did not save the link and don't remember the exact sentence I read, but I thought as I read, "That's it!"

So...I will try to paraphrase best I can.  And I apologize for not being able to give credit to the person who was much more eloquent than I will be.

I think the biggest challenge facing education is sort of two-sided.

One is that decisions are being made for and about education by people who really have no idea what it's like to be in a classroom.  Administrators and teachers are often asked to implement policies that are out of touch with …

The Superpower I Wish I Had

"If you could have one superpower to use in the classroom, what would it be and how would it help?"

That is TeachThought's prompt for Day 16 of the Reflective Teacher 30-Day Blog Challenge. easy one! ;)

I would choose to have a Motivator Ray Gun (I'm having difficulty thinking of a cool name for it).

I would love to have the power to make every student care.  To want to learn.  To want to improve.

Because, in my experience, those are the students who experience success.  Those are the students who grow.  Ability actually matters very little.  Give me students who are motivated, and we can really go places!

Three Strengths

It's the halfway point of TeachThought's Reflective Teacher 30-Day Blog Challenge!

Today's prompt:
"Name three strengths you have as an educator."

I think one strength I have is that I am open and willing to change.  Part of this comes from my compliant nature.  Ask me to do/try something, and I will.  But I also like shaking things up.  I need direction, I need to know how to make something new work for me, but when I finally have that "A-Ha" moment (that I enjoy seeing my students experience) I am all in.

A second strength is that I still love learning.  I still love to be challenged.  I WANT to know a better way to do what I'm doing.  I want to improve.  I still love learning about my craft, but I also still love learning about my subject.  I love seeing new connections in mathematics.  My training for my pre-AP classes by NMSI gave me several "lightbulb moments" about the math I teach that I honestly had never had before.

A third stren…

Feedback for Learning

I took a break from the Reflective Teacher Blog Challenge yesterday to blog about time management in my flipped classroom. Please go check it out if you're following #reflectiveteacher; it is very much a reflective post!

Today's prompt from TeachThought is:
"What is feedback for learning, and how well do you give it to students?"

Feedback is more than a grade.  In my view, feedback is letting students know - specifically - where they are missing the mark and what they can do to improve.

Before this year, I did not do very well at providing feedback to students.  While I would mark papers and make notes to students where appropriate, sometimes papers were not graded in a timely manner. And even if they were graded in a timely manner - and students knew their grades, either by my calling them up and showing them the paper (then keeping the paper due to waiting on absent students to make up the work) or by them checking their grades online - I was the world's WORST …

Using Time Wisely

Due to my participation in TeachThought's 30-Day Reflective Teacher challenge, I haven't blogged specifically about flipped lessons in two weeks.  And I'm going through withdrawal.

So today is a #flipclass post day!  (I might answer the Reflective Teacher prompt later; the day is young.)

Week before last we had a holiday-shortened week plus test prep and testing, so it was a week with only one flipped lesson.  This week we returned to flipped lessons full-force.

It's still going well.  I'm getting to do so many different practice activities with my students.  I know better than ever before what my students are getting and what they need more help with.  I'm hearing students comment on how much more manageable their math homework is than in years past.

There are challenges.

I have about one student in each class who seems to have made a habit out of not watching videos consistently.  But I have a better handle on how to respond to this and encourage student re…

The Next Five Years

I've been looking forward to answering today's Reflective Teacher Blog Challenge prompt.  TeachThought asks:

"How do you envision your teaching changing over the next five years?"

I'm not sure I would have had a good answer to this question before this past summer.

Now, though, I see two major changes in the next five years.

I can see flipping all my classes, my collaborative pre-algebra classes as well as my Algebra 1 classes. Fewer of my pre-algebra students have the access of most of my algebra students, and they have less motivation to do work of any kind outside of class, but I am beginning to brainstorm ideas for how to make some sort of flipping work for them.  I don't know if it will happen this year - flipping Algebra 1 is taking a LOT of time - but I can definitely see being ready to try something next school year.

The second change I see is a move to standards-based grading.  I think this would be process that would take a few years to fully implem…

My Favorite Part of the School Day

"What is your favorite part of the school day and why?"

That is TeachThought's Day 11 question for the Reflective Teacher 30-Day blog challenge.

Why the hard questions?

I think I have two favorite parts.

I like the quiet moments.  When I walk in my room in the morning before students arrive.  During my planning period when the room is quiet.  Those times when I finally get to sit down and exhale.

What?!?!? A teacher whose favorite times of the day are when she's not with students?'s not like that.  When my room is quiet, I get to think.  I get to dream about future lessons.  I get to reflect on past lessons.  I get to recharge.

My second favorite part of the school day is a little noisy.  I like when the students are working together and having mathematical discussions.  I love hearing "math talk" out the mouth of babes.  I love them reasoning, explaining, justifying to and with each other.  (And by the way, I get to hear much more of this n…


Ok, ok...I didn't post yesterday.  I couldn't really come up with any "biggest accomplishment in teaching that no one else knows about."  And I was tired.

But I'm back on board for TeachThought's 30-Day Reflective Teacher blog challenge on Day 10.

Today's prompt looks like fun!

Share 5 random facts about yourself

There was a time in my life when I could put both legs behind my head.I went half a year to 1st grade and half to 2nd, graduating high school when I was 16.I was salutatorian of my high school class.If I had been a boy, my name would have been "Jeffrey Major".I spent most of my 8th grade year in Cairo, Egypt.Share 4 things from your bucket list Attend a taping of The Price is RightGo zip-liningDo the overnight hike to LeConte Lodge in the Smoky MountainsVisit IrelandShare 3 things you hope for this year, as a person or an educator To maintain momentum and staminaTo develop a growth mindset in my studentsTo stay calm, mind my own business, a…

What's in My Desk Drawer?

Welcome to Day 8 of TeachThought's Reflective Teacher 30-Day Blog Challenge.

Today's question:
"What's in your desk drawer, and what can you infer from these contents?"

Oh, wow.  Do you REALLY want to see inside my desk drawer(s)?  I am the queen of junk drawers. A pro at shoving things in drawers before a sub comes in order to clear off the desktop.

Students are told to NEVER place anything they wish for me to find on my desk. And the drawers can be just as much of a black hole as the desktop.

One drawer got cleaned out during summer school (it's the one on top in the picture); it's in decent shape.  While straightening it, though, I found a kitchen spoon.  I have no idea how long it had been there, and I don't remember exactly why I took it to school in the first place.  The drawer underneath it is stuffed full of files, some still useful and some that need to be tossed.

The center drawer is full of odds and ends; paper clips, stickers, batteries.


My Most Inspirational Colleague

Week 1 of the 30-Day Reflective Teacher Blog Challenge by TeachThought is complete!  Today's topic:  "Who was or is your most inspirational colleague, and why?"

OK...this is impossible.  Just one?

I talked about Karen Chamness in my mentor post.  She was very inspirational to me for all the reasons she was a good mentor:  she was positive, she was available, she listened, she led by example.

I am very blessed to work in a family-like atmosphere at Arab Junior High School.  My colleagues and I actually like each other.  We spend time together outside of school.

While I am inspired by many different teachers in my school, for this post I will focus on my fellow math teachers.  They inspire me because I am always learning from them.

Lisa Laney has taught me to be more efficient in the classroom.

Milia Jones has taught me how to transition from a high school teacher to a middle school teacher.

Tiffany Brooks has taught me how to be more compassionate.

Anne-Marie Graves has t…

What Does a Good Mentor "Do"?

This is the question asked by TeachThought for Day 6 of the 30-day Reflective Teacher blog challenge.

When I think of "mentor," two names immediately come to mind.  Dr. Debbie Blue and Mrs. Karen Chamness.  Dr. Blue was my advisor at Oklahoma Baptist University, and Mrs. Chamness was my "next-door neighbor" in the high school where I began my teaching career.

What did these ladies "do" that made them good mentors?

They were positive.

They listened.

They were available.

They were passionate and enthusiastic about their jobs.

They led by example.

They each became a big part of who I am as a teacher today.

My Classroom

TeachThought's 30-Day Blog Challenge topic for Day 5 of the Reflective Teacher is:

"Post a picture of your classroom, and describe what you see - and what you don't see that you'd like to."

When I look at my classroom, I see flexibility.  We can work with a partner, in groups, or independently.

I see color.  My walls aren't too busy, but there are enough inspirational, colorful posters to keep them from being boring.

I see life.  My plant (a gift) does a lot for the atmosphere of the room (literally and figuratively!).

I see a sense of anticipation, being ready for whatever creative activity is next.

What I don't see, that I would like to see, is more tables.  I would like to have a more convenient  place to gather and work with small groups.  I would also like to see more room to have a little more flexibility with my desk arrangement when students aren't in groups.

What Do I Love the Most About Teaching?

Welcome to Day 4 of TeachThought's Reflective Teacher 30-Day Blog Challenge!

What do I love the most about teaching?  It might be cheating, but I decided on two things I love most.

One is building relationships.  While it is not my job - or my desire - to be my students' "friend" or "buddy," I want to build a solid, trusting relationship with my students.  I want them to know I am on their side, and I have their back.  I want them to know I care about them as individuals with unique interests, strengths, and personalities.

There is possibly no better motivator for a student - especially for one who finds intrinsic motivation hard to find - than a positive relationship with at least one adult at school.

Another part of teaching I love the most are the "A-Ha!" moments.  I love seeing the light bulb come on in a student's head.  That moment of understanding, of breakthrough, of "getting it" is incredibly rewarding to me.  I love when st…

An Evaluation Area for Improvement

Discuss one "observation" area that you would like to improve on for your teacher evaluation.

This one's easy!  I just completed my state's evaluation tool's Self-Assessment and PLP indicators this past weekend. Our administration helps us out by giving ideas for what we can pick as our areas for improvement (usually related to areas we are working on collectively as a faculty), and one of this year's suggestions was an area I had already picked as an area of focus for the school year:  formative assessment.

Our district began implementing "strategic teaching" methods a few years ago, and there has been a renewed focus on knowing at the end of each class period which students have met the objective for the day and which ones have not.

I remember as we started hearing the words "formative assessment" in faculty meetings and training sessions how many of us asked, "We have to give a grade every day?" and, "Assessment?  Every d…

Technology Integration for the '14-'15 School Year

It's Day 2 of TeachThought's 30-Day Blogging Challenge:  Reflective Teacher!

Today's topic:  "Write about one piece of technology you would like to try this year, and why.  You might also write about what you're hoping to see out of this edtech integration."

I'm not trying any new technology this year (that I know of at the moment); I'm looking to become more proficient with, and make better use of, technology we already have:  iPads.  Teachers in our system were given iPads in the spring of 2013.  We went 1:1 with iPads in grades 6-12 in the fall of 2013.

Last school year my integration of the iPads was pretty limited.  I made good use of our learning management system, Edmodo, and we used the iPads in my classroom primarily for textbooks and QR code scanners.

This year I've flipped my Algebra 1 classes, so I'm using the app Explain Everything to record lessons, and students are accessing those videos through YouTube links on Edmodo or downlo…

My Goals for the School Year

A teacher-friend at my school let me know via Twitter about TeachThought's 30-Day Blogging Challenge:  Reflective Teaching.

I've been very proud of myself for blogging once a week.

Every day for a month?  Well, that WILL be a challenge.  But I'm going to try my best.

Day 1's prompt is to write my goals for the school year.

I've already been in school four weeks (!) and my students have completed three.  My goals began to come into focus as last school year came to an end and through the summer as I read blogs and books and Twitter feeds.  The gears began turning and I knew what I wanted to accomplish this year.

The BIG goal - and the purpose for this blog - is the flipping of my Algebra 1 classes.  I knew by the middle of June I wanted to flip, and I have been working since then to make that happen.  You can read some of the process herehere, and here.  The beginning weeks of the flipped classroom have been successful.

Reflecting on my flipped classroom journey t…