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Showing posts from 2016

A Matter of Trust

Let me start by saying it's been a GREAT week!
It's been a challenging school year to this point, and the weeks before Thanksgiving Break were a struggle. I've ended more days than I can count feeling ineffective. I admit I expected this week, as students returned from Thanksgiving and looked ahead to Christmas, to be just as challenging.
My students have put forth great effort this week, and it's been one of those weeks where things have seemed a little smoother and easier.
I'm thankful for the positive week. And making a "note to self" to remember this week when the next rough patch hits.
What I really want to talk about, though, is trust. Trust in my students.

I was talking with a colleague this week, and I theorized that every teacher is somewhat of a control freak. It's MY classroom and MY students, and I want things to go (and be done) MY way.

Flipping my Algebra 1 classes two years ago was the beginning of me giving up some control. Of me trus…

"It's so HAAAARRRRRDDD!!!" and What I'm Learning

(Please read the first part of the blog post title in your best whiny voice.)

Sometimes I feel like this baby. I feel like I become one big whine. Like my friends should ask if I want some cheese with that.

It's that time of year again. The time of year that produced this post last year and this post two years ago.

I'm beginning to notice a pattern. I don't understand the pattern, but it obviously exists.

Yes, things are hard. I have a challenging group of students. Students who are pushing and stretching me and wondering if I mean what I say when I say I care about them and am committed to their learning. I am still creating and changing lessons and doing things differently than I have done them before. I am still at school way too late each day. I am still out of my box and in an uncomfortable space where I wonder if I'm doing things correctly. I end many days feeling like a failure. I am still challenging kids to go deeper and think harder; they don't always li…

What are Students Saying? - First Grading Period Reflections

As I've often said, I like giving students regular opportunities to reflect. I've had a goal for some time to gather student reflections at the end of each unit. That has not become a reality, yet, but there are few points of the school year in which I make sure I ask some reflection questions: the end of the first grading period, the end of the first semester, and the end of the year.

Believe it or not, it's the end of the first grading period.

I love Google Forms for student reflections. I can ask multiple choice questions and short answer questions and easily see responses and trends. I also save lots of paper. :)

I used a survey I used at the end of the first grading period last year that I called "The Goldilocks Survey." There were five multiple choice questions addressing such areas as how the class has been going, course difficulty, class structure, student-teacher interaction, and (self-perceived) student effort in which the answers were some variation of…

A Mathematical Gallery Walk

"Writing in math class" has long been a topic of discussion. Like many, many other topics of discussion it is an aspect of my teaching practice that is undergoing transformation.

It started with "write your answer in a complete sentence."

Mary bought 2 dozen apples.

THAT was writing in math class?!? Yep, pretty much.

My transformation probably began with Laying the Foundation training. I was introduced to what was expected of students' writing on Advanced Placement tests. And I began to expect more of my students' explanations. (For the record, they hated it.)

Then we began administering the ACT Aspire as our spring test; there's an entire "Justification/Explanation" section of the scoring. And our students are not scoring as well in that area as we would like.

I determined this year to focus on students' mathematical writing. In the past I would be thrilled if students could tell me ANYthing when asked to explain their work. Now I want to…

Adventures in Speed-Math-ing

I discovered task cards a few years ago. I was amazed at their effectiveness. Students who will shut down (understandably) at a worksheet of 20 problems will happily get a comparable amount of practice working one problem at a time, particularly if they can work with a partner and check their answers as they go (hurray for QR codes!).

I've used task cards in a few ways, including scoots (not my favorite) and through the app Classkick, but I've wanted to try Speed-Dating Math-ing for at least a year. I was just never sure how to make it work for ME.

I read this blog post that made the most sense to me, and I finally took the plunge (disclaimer: Randi explains the process much better than I do, so please read her post!).

I tried speed-math-ing with my Pre-Algebra kids first. My two collaborative, inclusion Pre-Algebra classes are small, so I set up two sets of 8 desks in the room. One reason I decided on two sets was to allow for a bit of differentiation; students in these class…

The In-Class Flip and the Magic

Since flipping my Algebra 1 classes two years ago, I have tried to figure out how to successfully flip my Pre-Algebra classes.

My Pre-Algebra kids are different from my "pre-AP" Algebra 1 kids. Less confident, less motivated, many of them trying to be successful despite learning disabilities and obstacles at home.

I decided early on that watching videos at home would not work for my Pre-Algebra kids. I tend to not give these kids homework, anyway. And if a large percentage of them enter class having not watched a video (usually only 1 or 2, if any, of my Algebra 1 kids don't watch a video), it would make each day's class difficult and stressful...for them AND me.

So I've been contemplating an in-class flip with them for over a year, but I wasn't sure how to organize it. Some in-class flippers use stations, but I wasn't sure how that would look for me.

I did a few in-class videos with last year's Pre-Algebra group, but I started late in the first semes…

I Notice...I Wonder...The Pythagorean Theorem in 3D

I am pretty tired and close to brain-dead, but I wanted to post while today's activities were fresh in my mind.

I had a brainstorm Saturday morning. Algebra 1 was finishing up the Pythagorean Theorem this week, and I wanted to take a look at the Pythagorean Theorem in 3D. I tried it last year with not a lot of luck. A few saw it, many did not.

My "A-Ha" came at the strangest time, but I went with it and began planning. What if I approach it with an "I Notice...I Wonder..." angle? What if I can get kids to see where we're headed without telling them?

I decided to show kids a diagram of a rectangular prism with the interior diagonal in blue and ask what they noticed and wondered. Then I showed them the same diagram with the dimensions of the prism and the question, "What is the length of the blue line segment?"

I split kids into groups of three, gave them a copy of the diagram they could write on, and I gave each group a box (various sizes) with str…

#flipclass FlashBlog On Parents, Support, and Homework

I try to keep the parents of my students informed about what is going on in my classroom. I could always do a better job.

I have one main "parent goal" for this coming year. I would like to get more feedback from parents about what is/isn't working for their child in my class. I collected email addresses at the beginning of the year and plan to form groups so I can send reflection forms to parents similar to what I have students complete throughout the year.

The biggest problem is finding the time to get all of that set up. Since I'm still in the process of finding my groove, email groups have been low on the priority list. But I don't want to forget about them.

Support from parents and administration for my flipped classroom has been amazing. My admin has been behind me from the beginning, and as positive comments started coming in from parents and students, support strengthened.

The only question I've been asked by a parent was during the Open House at the …

Trying to Find my Groove

I just finished Week 2 with students, and I have to say it's been a rough two weeks. My students are fine. I have one challenging class, but we are approaching the place where we understand each other. :)

I have just felt perpetually behind the past two weeks. I feel like I'm barely staying one step ahead of where I need to be. I don't have my sea legs, yet.

There are probably good reasons. We moved my son to his freshman dorm last weekend. I had to miss a day this week for a committee I'm on. There have been after-school appointments, which completely cramp my stay-at-school-until-I'm-done style.

I have been reminded of when I returned to teaching after 5 years at home, with two small kids. It was Christmas before I felt I was in a routine.

I really hope I'm not going to feel this way until Christmas.

The point of this blog, however, is not to whine about how hard everything feels right now (at least, not too much).

I want to reflect on what has happened in th…

Goal for the Year: Keep Taking Risks

I didn't intend to blog today, but I had a "moment" yesterday, and I need to share it, mostly for my own benefit.
As a teacher, I do not tend to avoid risks. I flipped my classroom. I implemented a broad retake and redo policy. In the last few years I have used methods and strategies and lessons completely outside my comfort zone. I play around with new technologies.

Does everything always work smoothly? No. But the rewards of all those things have been greater than the hiccups.'s a new school year (students start tomorrow) with new opportunities for growth. I have pushed myself and my students HARD the last couple of years, but there are still improvements to be made.

One area of focus is developing students conceptual understanding of math. WHY does math work the way it does? An understanding of the math is infinitely preferable to blindly using a rule and not having a clue why it works.

One topic where I find students' conceptual understanding to be p…

Summer School Reflections

Summer School wrapped up 3 hours ago, and I've debated whether to wait a day or two before blogging, but I decided I wanted to clear my head of anything school-related for a few days, so here goes....

I've taught summer school for 5 years. It's something I feel called to. It's always challenging.

This year was TOUGH. Maybe one of the toughest months of my professional life. I can identify several reasons for the difficulties, but I decided that was not the point of this post.

I approached summer school differently this year (more problem-solving and less skill-based) and had a few things I experimented with, and those are the things I want to talk about.

Number Talks - I read the book Number Talks Matter in the week between the end of the school year and the beginning of summer school and started each day for the first two and a half weeks with a number talk. We did dot cards, then addition, and one day of subtraction. The kids seemed to enjoy the number talks. They pic…

Innovation in My Classroom

Andrew (@thomasson_engl) will fuss at me for saying this, but I'm not very creative. I can follow someone else's lead with the occasional A-Ha of my own, but I have very few ideas original to me.

I've said it before, but I stand on the shoulders of giants. And I am oh-so-thankful for those giants. does innovation show up in the classroom of this not-so-creative teacher?

A few years ago I began Interactive Notebooks with my Pre-Algebra kids. That was decently innovative (although not original).

Two years ago I flipped my Algebra 1 classes. That was hugely innovative (still not original).

Last year I played around with an in-class flip for my Pre-Algebra students.

The structure of my classes continues to change. More student choice. More student-centered. Moving towards more open-ended, collaborative lessons that give students context.

All of this is innovative for ME. Way outside my comfort zone and definitely outside my box. It's pretty innovative for my stude…

That's a Wrap (...but Always Planning)

The 2015-2016 school year is finished.

It was a good one. Oh, there were tough times and struggles and frustrations, but that's part of the process.

I feel good about growth I made as a teacher and where I'm headed with my practice.

I feel good about the foundation I laid for my students and hope what they learned with me will benefit them in high school.

Here's my evaluation of what I see as the major aspects of my classroom.

Flipped Classroom
Flipped learning is in my bones. It's who I am. I recognize the teacher I was before, but I am a completely different teacher now.
I did not experience the "love fest" from this year's students that Year 1's students provided, but they were very clear in their end-of-year reflections that they liked our flipped classroom.
My flipped classroom began to change this year, and I see it continuing to transform. I see shorter videos and more discovery/exploration before content videos.
I experimented with an in-class …

End-of-Year Student Reflections and Evaluation

We've almost made it! The end of another school year is here.

I love student reflections. I like to check in with kids periodically to see how things are going. I want to know what's working, what's not, and their perceptions of things. Students often have very good ideas, and I want to know how they think I could improve my class.

I realize that I'm not always going to get the most serious of answers from 8th graders, but overall they do very well with reflections.

I gave this year's end-of-year reflection in a Google Form. I really like the recent updates to Google Forms.

The Google Form had 30 questions where students evaluated various characteristics of me on a scale from "Strongly Disagree" to "Strongly Agree." Students rated everything from my patience to organization to enthusiasm.

Nothing really surprised me about the responses to these questions. There were very few "Disagree" or "Strongly Disagree" responses, so I l…

Improving the "Unit with Room for Improvement"

Last year I wrote a blog post about "The Unit with Room for Improvement."

So, how'd it go this year?

Much better!

I divided the not-so-successful unit into two units, as I decided last year it needed to be. We did polynomial operations, tested, then moved into factoring.

My students rocked polynomial operations! It was one of the most successful tests of the school year.

(As a side note, I taught multiplication without FOIL, hoping to help students understand it better, and I think it worked. I sort of needed the "OI" part when it came to checking their factoring work, but they seemed to even check their work better this year having NOT been taught to FOIL.)

As we got ready to transition into factoring, I was once again staring at the calendar. So few days left, lots of interruptions coming, but factoring AND quadratics left to go. The panic tried to set in.

But I determined to ignore it. I was going to take my time and make sure students understood material as…

Just Keep Swimming....

Wow...It's been a long time since I've blogged!

I've been trying to channel my inner Dory. ALL of us at school have.
It's that time of the school year.
Very little sun...very little warmth (although this has not been that brutal of a winter)...very little energy...restless students...Christmas Break is a distant memory...Spring Break seems so, so far away.
One reason I haven't blogged is there hasn't been much to say. We keep on keeping on. Algebra 1 students watch videos, we do activities in class. Pre-Algebra students got to shift gears to some more skill-based topics, and it's been fun to see them expand their understanding of the real numbers and the number line. They're currently doing the Pythagorean Theorem unit Algebra 1 did early in the year. I love that unit.
Another reason I haven't blogged is I've felt so "blah." I'm not in the funk I was first semester, but I've been in one of those phases where I just put one foot…

My Top Ten Posts of 2015

I realize my blog is still relatively little, but I enjoy seeing the number of views grow over time. I'm a sucker for stats (I am a math teacher after all), and I love watching the daily views, number of post views, and where the views are coming from.

I've seen a couple of "Top 10" blog posts floating around, so I thought I would post my own.

1) #flipclass Flash Blog: Late Work (This is, by far, the all-time most popular post on the blog.)

2) Transforming as an Educator (This post was difficult to write.)

3) Spending a Week with Pythagoras (What a fun week!)

4) #flipclass Flash Blog: Building Community Outside of School (I always love promoting Twitter!)

5) #flipclass Flash Blog: Thanksgiving (I have so much to be thankful for.)

6) #flipclass Flash Blog: Grading (How I tackle this necessary evil.)

7) #flipclass Flash Blog: Building a Positive Classroom Culture (I am convinced positive relationships are the most important thing I can develop in my classroom.)

8) The …