How I Run Class Now

I do things very differently than even a few years ago, so I wanted to share how my class is run now that I’ve experimented with a flipped classroom for a few years. I teach both Algebra 1 and Honors Precalculus using these strategies.


  • Flipped classroom with guided notes and PlayPosit within Schoology
  • #VNPS (a.k.a. whiteboards around the room) random grouping for practice
  • Mix of 3Act Lessons and Desmos Activities as discovery lessons when appropriate
  • Warm-ups through a Google document which include:
  • Self-graded quizzes every Friday

Flipped Classroom

I typed up Guided Notes and used Doceri on the iPad to create a short video of me explaining the notes while writing them out. Doceri is awesome (for lots of reasons) in part because I can write out what I want ahead of time and mark “stopping points”. Then when I go to record my voice, I just click “play” to the next stopping point and what I want students to write is written out quickly to match the speed of my voice.

Here’s all my Algebra videos on a Youtube playlist so you can see what I mean.

Then, I put the video into PlayPosit, which allows me to insert questions for the students to respond to. PlayPosit also allows me to see which questions they got right and wrong, how much video they watch, how long it took them to watch that video, and how long it took them to answer each question. There’s even space for them to type an explanation if they get a question wrong, so I know they’re watching and paying attention and thinking about the math, even if they don’t get it yet.

PlayPosit is what our district pays for, but I did all of this in EDPuzzle for free first.

#VNPS (Vertical Non-Permanent Surfaces) and Random Grouping for Practice

I have whiteboards on all 4 walls of my room. There are shelves and things, but I would say roughly 60-70% of the wall space is whiteboards where students can write.

When students come into class, I’ve already checked whether they watched the PlayPosit video and put them into random groups if they have done the HW. If they haven’t finished the HW, they sit down and do it, and I make a note to make a phone call home.

The problems are on a document within Schoology (our LMS), but I used to hand out sheets of paper for each group. I have rules like “only one whiteboard marker per group” and “trade off the marker after every question” and “all heads in–everyone is working on every problem”. Of course, I also have Sarah Carter’s awesome “Class Norms” posters up in the room, though I am currently working on improving group work for my younger classes (9th graders).

Self-Graded Quizzes every Friday

I think I got the self-grading idea from Megan Hayes-Golding. I leave a few copies of answer keys at the back of the room and have felt-tipped pens (mine are blue) next to the keys. Students are to leave any pen or pencil at their desk when they go to correct themselves. “Self-grade” is a bit of a misnomer because I really want them to self-correct. I give them a point for doing this process correctly (out of 4 total possible points!) so I show them it’s very important [1]. In my flavor of SBG (Standard Based Grading) students are allowed to retake quizzes as often as they’d like, but they need to demonstrate some practice first.


Overall, my classroom is more chaotic than most, especially for a math teacher, but I think learning is happening lots. And not just learning math, but learning to communicate with others, to teach, to lead, to learn, and to be responsible for your own education.

[1] If students run out of time, I will grade it for them, but most students are able to grade themselves and get instant feedback.



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Students Accessing Resources

This upcoming year our school announced that we had the option of switching to Schoology. The main advantage of this was the idea that “now everything would be in one place: grades, home communication, and students’ work.” However, as I sit down to look at what I do in a class throughout a week, I’m worried it will become “just one more site to visit”. Here’s my quick list of what tasks students do in my class where they need to access the internet.

Task Program/Website
Warm-ups Google Drive
Online Class Activity (Desmos, for example) Can use link
Quizizz Can use link
PlayPosit link & video Can use link
Grades Schoology
Guided Notes Handout in person, Weebly
Page Numbers (Precalculus) On Guided Notes, Weebly
Khan Academy, other Practice Weebly
Class discussions (typed) Schoology
Individual Comments for Ss Schoology (?) or Remind (?)
Photos of Whiteboard activity Freshgrade or Schoology (how?)
Google Form (Surveys) Can use link


I like Schoology because it combines grades and an LMS, which I’ve never had synced before.

However, it’s not optimal for my warm-ups which I have students type into a Google Doc. The quickest way to distribute that is to use Google Classroom and use the “create a copy for each student” feature. So Google Classroom is the best for this daily access. Google Classroom also wins when it comes to projects in Google Slides where I want students to work from a template so they’re not spending excess time trying to figure out which pages they need to include in their project. I could include the Google classroom assignment link in Schoology, but that would be time consuming for me and is it necessary?

But I’ve spent quite some time putting resources on my personal Weebly website: Here Precalculus students can access every video for the year, the specific page numbers from the textbook, every Khan Academy exercise link that I think appropriate, and even some “going beyond” resources. It’s also very well organized (I think) and cleaner than Schoology could be, at least when it comes to presenting resources.

Lastly, I got excited when I discovered Freshgrade near the end of the year last year. I didn’t use it, but because students use the whiteboards on the walls of my room so frequently, I want to capture the work they have and save it somewhere, even if I don’t always “count it” for a grade. I think Schoology might be able to do this, but if not, it adds to the number of places students are going to “look for things from my classroom”.

Then there’s the list of 3rd party websites that I want to use, include Desmos activites, Quizizz problem sets, Google Forms, and then individual questions for students where I want class discussion to happen. All of these I can link in Google Classroom or Schoology, but I need to choose one at the start of the year and decide what to use.

My hope is that if I can narrow it down to 2 or 3 locations students are going for work, it can be manageable. I don’t want students to be overwhelmed and I don’t want the technology to be a barrier. I’m trying to use technology only when it makes a class activity faster or helps the class go more in depth than I otherwise could.  Having said that, I think my classroom is nearly to the point where everything except for some assessments are on whiteboards or on the computer.

How many different places do students go to access things in your class?




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Apps in my Teaching Day

Jon Orr posted a podcast/blogpost on 10 Tools in my Teaching Day and I thought it was a fascinating way to reflect on “What apps/websites/tools do I use in my day?” So here goes!

Image result for pebble time

Alarms on Pebble Time

Even though Pebble is out of business, you can still purchase them online. I use my smartwatch to wake up with a vibration alarm so I don’t wake up my wife, but I also have alarms set throughout the day and week to remind me of things that I otherwise wouldn’t: 10 minutes left in each class, reminder to go to my hall duty once a day, remember to call “Grandpa Fred” on Sundays. Even when my phone is off or not accessible, these silent alarms are always on me, and the watch’s battery still lasts about 3 days before needing a charge (I’ve had it for 2 years!).

Image result for if this then that


I don’t check the weather every day, but I do bike to school, so I need to know whether it’s going to rain later in the day (on my bike ride home!), so I can take a car instead. If This Then that is a versatile app, so it’s hard to describe all the features it can do, but I use it to alert me when it’s going to rain.


I like to keep track of how long it takes me to bike the 1.5 miles to school and back. Strava is part run/bike tracker, part social media, so I can keep up with the other teachers who use it from my last school in New Mexico, where I used to teach.

Google Keep

Without checklists, I would forget tons of things. I use Google Keep at 3 main times: when I get to school, after school, and after school on Friday (end of week stuff). Once I finish the checklist, I select the “uncheck all items” button and I’m good to go for the next time!

Google Drive/Google Classroom

This is where I create all the presentations for each day, student warm-ups, quizzes, tests, and classwork that I don’t steal from somewhere else.

1-Click Timer

This handy Chrome extension is exactly what it says. I can quickly start warm-ups and since it’s a pop-up in the corner, it doesn’t obscure the presentation if I have a website shown.

Image result for desmos logo


The free online graphing calculator that revolutionized the way I teach math. It is a graphing calculator but it’s also so much more than a graphing calculator.


This app can be set up to remind you to pray throughout the day. Then, it can give you a list of topics to pray for. Have decided that 4 topics can be done in a few minutes, and it’s a good reminder to stop whatever I’m doing and pray. Often I think “I don’t have time to pray” but I need to be reminded that God’s in charge of it all, and so the real thing is that I don’t have time not to pray. I put my students in there at the start of the year and it helps remind me what’s most important in teaching along with helping me learn the students’ names early on.

Scripture Typer

An app that my brother showed me that helps when memorizing scripture. It has 3 “stages”: typing out the memory verse, typing it out with every other word missing, and then typing it from scratch. I find the three stages helps me when initially learning the verses. Then, when you have “mastered” a verse, it will pop up at intervals so you keep it mastered. If you get it right on the first try, it increases the interval slightly. I wish I could find research for my math students as to what the optimal interval and increase in interval is so that I could plan spiral reviews for my students, but the app does a great job helping me memorize scripture.


This handy Android app functions as a check-list of things that I want done each day: habits that I want to build. Things like exercise 3 times a week, read my Bible daily, blog on this website, or spend time with each of my children each night before they go to bed. I’m able to see how well I’m doing at each of these things over the course of time.

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Year-End Reflection and Changes

This is another first year in a new school for me, so there was a lot to learn this year. I am very excited to be teaching the same two classes (Algebra 1 yearlong and Precalculus) and building on these two classes. Here are some of the ideas I have for next year, in no particular order.

  • I need to rethink my textbook organization for Precalculus. At the end of the year 2 textbooks went missing. I keep textbooks on a shelf in the room because we use them every day in class and students are allowed to take their textbooks home. Two are unaccounted for, so I need to rethink what classwork looks like in Precalculus, which goes hand-in-hand with the next one.
  • We need to do even more spiraling. I assigned weekly HW assignments which were all review, but too many students didn’t do their homework and too many copied their friends (a few even admitted as much!). I need to have them do review problems in class where I can monitor and give feedback. This will require me to make/copy problems into “sets” which have current material and review material. I want to read “Make It Stick” to get a feel for the optimal re-learning time.
  • Students need to be more independent when doing the “work together” time. It’s almost always on the whiteboards, but I could do something where students use part of the board for their groupwork effort and then part of the board for individual effort. This can be recorded using the next point.
  • FreshGrade. It looks like an app/website/system where I can take pictures and record, both with photos and with videos, student work. The students have a stream and, if I can setup SBG, then we could use the stream to grade students on their success on a given topic as we’ll have lots of evidence. This will also help with spiraling, even in Algebra 1 where I’m loath to do it (but that means I need to do it all the more!)
  • I also want to include some peer evaluation components to the groupwork.
  • I need to model more of all of this. I need to model:
    • Good groupwork
    • Good self-grading (even when they get an answer key!)
    • How to watch the videos
    • How to do test corrections
    • How to talk about each other’s math ideas in a non threatening way.
  • I want to leverage my teacher website as a resource. It can have all the problem numbers from the textbook, but of course, I now want to include problem sets, so ideally I’ll add those to the website.
  • I want to improve my visibility in the community and for the students. Attend more sports and academic competitions. Attend more events, performances, and just things in general.
  • I want to make students grading themselves as a point on the standards based grading scale for their quizzes (does this fit into the SBG mindset?). Too often I find that students aren’t so much correcting themselves as just marking “right” or “wrong”. Sometimes I’ll hang out by the turn-in tray just to ask students “Can you correct this paper better, please?”
  • I want to continue to improve the videos, certainly re-recording some of them, but also focus on the questioning in the videos: always moving from low level (recall) up through high level questioning (analysis). Perhaps I should make a “question chart” to have next to my desk so that I always follow Bloom’s Taxonomy or DoK or something like that.

What will be the biggest change? Probably the FreshGrade, if it works. If it does, then I’m going to use a different grading scheme and get permission from my principal. I’ll need to have it all laid out clearly. That’ll come in a later blog post. Oh, and we’re supposed to have access to Schoology at some point, but we don’t know very much, as in “will we be allowed to plug in grades there?” And “Can I do SBG there?”. If not, I may just have a separate program to keep track of SBG grades and then update them weekly into the school system grade book. Yes, it’ll take longer but that time will be spent reflecting on where my students are and where they need to be.

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[SBG] Grading Idea: Points for Ss Correcting Themselves

This year I’ve used a 3-2-1 scale for grading all quizzes: 3 = mastery, 2 = proficiency, and 1 = Not Yet. Students can receive a 0, but it’s if they show absolutely no understanding (in other words, it’s very, very simple to get at least a 1).

I also provide answer keys in the back of the room and students grade themselves (with my blue felt markers) immediately after every quiz. I want students to go beyond grading and actually correct themselves, but many ignore that and/or forget to do it over time.

So I thought “What if I graded out of 4 and one of the points was for correcting all the missed work?” That means if they got everything right, they automatically got the extra point. I could also penalize students for not checking themselves carefully (another thing that bothers me! Students counting their scores as correct when they’re actually not!) Of course I still grade after all the students, but it shows a lack of effort and attention to detail that I want.

Right now I still have to translate all these grades into numbers, so 3 –> 100, 2 –> 85, 1 –> 50 and 0 –> 0.

With the extra point, I could make 4 –> 100, 3 –> 75 (or 80 or 85), 2 –> 50, 1 –> 25, 0 –> 0. It would still be easy for students to get “1” and then bump it up to a “2” with lots of corrections, but of course then they’re writing down all the correct work on their quiz in my blue pen, which is, I guess, a good exercise.

I’m going to file this away for next year (I don’t want to change grading practices too much in the middle of the year!)

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Teaching Reflections + One Good Thing

After school today we had a staff meeting where we talked about reflecting on teaching and I realized I hadn’t reflected here in a while.

One reason I think I “took my foot off the gas” was because at the start of last year, an 8th grader told me “I found your blog and read what you’re teaching us–will we also be doing this activity and that activity?” On the one hand, that was great. On the other hand, this student had the potential to spoil and surprises that I had for others, so it kinda killed my blogging momentum.

Right now I think no students know about this, so I’m going to get back in the habit of reflecting on my teaching regularly.

So for today I just wanted to say one thing that happened in my class that has solidified one practice I do for the rest of my teaching career.

A student walking into my room to ask me a question. Her friend, probably an upperclassmen (Jr. or Sr.), who I do not know, came in with her and commented “that’s cool” pointing to my birthday whiteboard where I write student’s birthdays and half-birthdays.

If a student whose name isn’t on there likes that, think how much more that means when I recognize students’ birthdays and half-birthdays by writing it on the board even if I forget to tell them Happy Birthday on their birthday.

I will forever write student’s birthdays somewhere in my room for as long as I teach.

Yes, a student wrote down a fake name while they were in tutoring and I was out of the room at a faculty meeting.

And yes, it’s my wife’s birthday this week. Don’t worry, I’ve got a really good birthday present for her! I just hope it arrives on time.

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[SundayFunday] First Day of School

Blogging always tremendously helps my reflection and helps me grow as a teacher. However, I struggle to be motivated to do it, which is why I’m so glad that Julie (@jreulbach) is great at starting these initiatives.

MTBoS SunFun Logo

This week’s topic is “First Day/Week of School”

In the Past

In the past I’ve done everything from hand out and read the syllabus (and hope the bell rings by the time I get to the end) to ignoring the syllabus entirely. If every teacher shares the syllabus on the first day, the students just hear “blah blah blah”. But if you do something different, you can always hand out the syllabus later in the first week. Or never[1].

I often have them fill out a “get to know you” form, either online if I know I have access to a Chromebook cart, or on paper. Last year I kept the papers in a binder and used them throughout the year, both studying students’ likes and dislikes, as well as keeping a record of contact home, and I was really glad for that. This year with fewer students at one time (3 block classes each semester instead of 5 non-block classes all year long), I should be able to focus and learn students’ better than in the past.

My father-in-law offered this wise advice: Make sure you do math on the first day to set the tone and the idea that “we do math in this classroom every day.” I think he even recommended starting with math before doing any sort of icebreaker or survey.

This Year

I’m going back to High School, and I’m sure that my Precalculus class will look very different from my year-long Algebra class, both in academic and social maturity.

This is also the first time that I’ll be teaching a block class on the first day.

One thing that Mary Bourassa mentions that she’s done on her first day was to show students a bunch of functions/lines/curves on Desmos without the equations. Students then work out how to graph them on Desmos. I’m going to do this in Precalculus and I’ll throw in some moving parts and some that are very difficult for the “reach” so that everyone is challenged. Here’s her Desmos Activity that she created based on the graph (I kind of like how the original activity was open-ended and students could pick which graph they want to try to create first!)

I’d like to do something like this in Algebra I, but I need to be careful not to throw too much over their heads because I think I lost a lot of students last year that way.

I’ve been reading others “First Day/Week Back” blog posts and here are some that caught my eye (in no particular order).

  • Feedback Name Tents, from Sara Vanderwerf.  I first saw “Name Tents” and thought “oh, Middle School. I taught that last year, I don’t need that”, but I know I DO need to build relationships with the students and her idea of giving individualized feedback every day for the first week is incredible!
  • What is Math and What do Mathematicians Do, from Sara Venderwerf. This post is great. I definitely want to get all my classes to consider what Math is and what a Mathematician is. I’m used to using “I notice, I wonder”, though it’s a good reminder that I need to be intentional about planning this into my lessons, daily if possible. I may spend more time with Algebra I because there will likely be more students in those classes who think “I can’t do math”.

Hmm, I thought I had more resources to put here, but just #PushSend.

[1] I do think I forgot to hand out the syllabus one year. They sat in a stack in the corner of my room until I used them for scrap paper halfway through the year.

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