Monthly Archives: August 2014

My Weekly Class Schedule

I was trained as a math teacher: majored in math, got a masters in math, and then got a masters in math education. So 3 years ago when we moved out here to NM, it was with trepidation that I approached my Chemistry & Physics classes (don’t worry, they let me teach Precalculus for two periods).

I’ve really enjoyed them and I’ve grown as a teacher[1]. However, I have decided this year to stick to a very strict schedule in Chemistry, based on my standards. I’ll explain the schedule, and then I’ll give you the pro’s and con’s of this type of schedule. I hope you’ll help me out by giving me other pro’s and con’s that I missed.

The Schedule

First, our school uses a semi-block schedule. That means for Chemistry, I see students 45 minutes on Monday, Tuesday, and Friday, and an hour and 35 minutes on Thursday. Here’s the schedule.

Monday: Start with a small timed prequiz (5 min, 6-10 questions, multiple choice) that doesn’t count for their grade [2], and write their answers on a Gradecam bubble sheet. When students finish, they scan their bubble sheet and receive immediate feedback: how many they got right/wrong and which ones. After the quiz, they get their guided notes sheet and wait a minute or two for everyone to finish scanning. We take notes, interspersed with practice. If the notes are extensive, they go through to Tuesday.

Tuesday: This is a flexible day. Finishing notes if not done on Monday, do a mini-lab, ,prepare for Thursday’s lab, talk about SBG, students study on their own, etc.

Thursday: We start class with the same preassessment that they took on Monday which still doesn’t count for a grade. This one is loosely timed: they’re to try to finish, but if they don’t finish by the time I need to move on, I tell them to only judge themselves on the ones they get to. I also post the answers in the back of the classroom if they want to go back and look at it. Then we move on to lab, which usually takes the full hour and 35 minutes (which is why I push them to finish the quiz quickly), especially if they haven’t read the lab procedure before coming to class.

Friday: We take a quiz on the standard for the week. Students who needed to retake a previous standard (I often require retakes) will also take those at this time. If students finish with time left in class, I ask them to go to my website and look ahead to next week’s standard, fill out their practice log, or study/sign up for another standard they wish to improve. If everyone finishes the quiz with time left, we’ll discuss the lab (which they turn in with their quiz) and talk about other Chemistry stuff.


I’ve heard it said that students often thrive on a routine. This is about as “we know what to expect” as is out there. Yes, topics and labs change, but students know that on Monday & Thursday they start with a quiz and Tuesday & Friday they start with a warm-up. This helps a ton with classroom management as well, and (most) students arrive to class ready to work.

Frequent assessment. I was reading an article about 53 ways to check for understanding and that’s what motivated me to write this post. Students, twice a week, are receiving instant, specific checks to see how they’re doing. No, binary feedback (right/wrong) isn’t the best, but it’s the fastest and the only way I’d be able to do this so often. They can then use these quizzes to study and I can give more detailed feedback on the Friday quiz.

I’m teaching at a much faster rate than previous years, where the mantra was “we’ll move on when we’re all ready”. Part of this is the guided notes/graphic organizers, which condenses the teacher-led instructional time (a good thing) and helps students organize their own notes (also a good thing). Because I’m moving so much faster, we’re going to have 2-3 weeks at the end of each the semester for students to study (& improve) the standards where they didn’t do well the first time around.

It’s also nice to have the weekend to grade quizzes so I can give appropriate feedback, call parents, etc. Unfortunately that means they have 2 full days to forget what they had on the quiz, but that’s what the earlier non-counting quizzes are for. That and they know they’re going to see the quiz 2-3 weeks later. Oh, and 2-3 months after that.

In the past I’ve made the (huge) mistake of not assessing, moving on to the next topic, and then students doing terrible on the assessment a month later at the end of the unit. This guarantees that I get a picture of how they’re doing at least once a week. Because the Monday/Thursday quizzes are scanned into Gradecam, I can glance at those quizzes and see how a student did during the week.


Is this too much structure? One of the good things about SBG is being able to modify lessons more easily to meet the specific needs of students’ knowledge of the material. If most of my class does terrible on an assessment because I have this “must learn by Friday” rule, will I really take another day or two (or week) to go over the material? Or will it “throw the whole train off”.

One idea with this scheme is “I’m going this speed–if you’re not with us, you need to come to tutoring and/or study more at home.” [3] I have the advantage that this will be the 4th year of me teaching the class, but every year is different (and every student is different), so perhaps I need to be more flexible and willing to move at the appropriate rate?

Is it possible for students to perform less well with too much structure? Is there such a thing? Might I become bogged down in too much structure and become a less effective teacher?


Do you do something like this? If so, what do you do that works (this is my first year trying it) or what do you do differently? Does this sound like a good idea? A terrible idea? Let me know so I can fix it before the train wreck happens in a few months & I can’t turn it around. Otherwise, I hope this post might have been helpful to you–or at least given you some ideas.[4]

[1] This is the first year that I’m reusing any of the same material in Physics. I was a terrible physics teacher my first year and only slightly better the following year. It wasn’t until my third year that I was brave/competent enough to try modelling (thank you, Kelly!), and even this year (my 4th) I don’t really have it down.

[2] They should do terrible because it’s a pre-assessment and the students had to get used to doing badly (and not let it “get them down” as they said).

[3] I guess this could be a pro because I’ve had classes where I slow down every time a good chunk of the class does poorly on a quiz. But if they start to bomb multiple quizzes, I slow down to the point that my expectations of them outside of class is little to none–we’re just doing all the studying in class. I want them to learn to be responsible, and if that means a tough lesson by me calling home a few times in a row, then so be it. That’s also why I’m having them keep practice logs–if I see they’re practicing lots and not doing well on quizzes, then we can slow down. But if they’re not practicing at all outside of school (that seems to be the “norm” for many students), then they’re going to have to put 2 and 2 together: practice and you’ll do better on the quizzes!

[4] Notice that I’m not doing this kind of rigorous quiz-all-the-time in Physics and Precalculus. I’m just trying to make sure I assess enough in there (weekly or semi-weekly quizzes). Should I do it in those classes?

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3 Acts: Participation Quiz with Stacking Cups

I had a great block day (1.5 hr classes) today with both of my Precalculus classes because, via Tina’s Goal-Setting blog post, I found Sam’s Participation quizzes from years ago. The stacking cups video was created by Andrew Stadel, so I’ll only link to the 101qs I hadn’t read that post[1], but I loved the idea. In the comments, Julie had mentioned trying this out with Google Docs, and since I like Google things way better than my Smart-board[2], I decided to try this out. I found out that it works best with Google drawings, because you can move text-boxes around anywhere you want. I don’t know if the other teacher did this, but instead of putting the names “blue group”, “red group”, etc. up on the board, I just made the rectangle match the color of the group. The best thing about using Google was I could collaborate with myself: I brought my laptop to school and so I could enter comments either from the computer at the front of the room (not very often) or from my laptop closer to the action.


We did a typical bare-bones math warm-up (is that a bad idea?). After the warm-up, I put the rules (copies straight from Sam’s post) up on the power-point:

  1. Everyone in the group must participate equally. There isn’t a leader, or the same person leading the show. The voices are shared.
  2. Students should not work too quickly. If they work simply to finish the sheet, without any other consideration, they aren’t doing it right.
  3. No one moves on until everyone understands. This isn’t about everyone having the same thing written down — but everyone has to know why.
  4. Students should think out loud. Students should check in with each other. Students should ask questions of one another.

Then I assigned groups, explained “Participation Quizzes“, showed the cup-stacking video, and said “GO!”

Here’s the result of me walking around, listening to groups, and recording what I heard/saw for 1st period and 7th period Precalculus:

1st Pd Participation Quiz -- Stacking Cups (1)

7th Pd Participation Quiz -- Stacking Cups (1)

Here’s a link to my template–feel free to make a copy of it and steal it!

*The line across the 7th period groups were before and after we discussed our answers–we then did a sequel. Here are the sequel questions I used to keep them going:

  1. What if we started with 10 blue cups and 1 white cup?
  2. How many cups does it take to reach Mr. Newman’s stool?
  3. You come up with two good questions.

When I did Robert Kaplinsky’s In-n-Out burger, he left a great comment about “breadth vs depth” of sequel questions. That really encouraged me to come up with a few deeper questions. Sort of “think about this in another way” (depth) rather than “do this similar problem and let’s make sure you can apply the skills you learned again” (breadth).

I was really impressed with how well the students started doing group work. The constantly changing board up front gave them ideas for how to better work together, and yet, it wasn’t too distracting.

Thanks to all the MTBoS members who helped shape this lesson–I’ve become a 100000% better teacher from reading you guys!

[1] I should probably stop what I’m doing and go back and read all of Sam’s posts… I even stole his way of making footnotes in blog posts!

[2] And I only have a smart-board in one of the two math classrooms in which I teach Precalculus.

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Goals for the Year

I was encouraged/challenged by Tina Cardone’s Goal-setting. These four are copied from my PDP (personal development plan) that I shared with my principal.

  1. Build a repository (my website) for students to access based on individual standards: resources for learning, vocabulary, practice, and a clear definition of the standard are all included in this.
  2. Students who do not pass an essential standard will have parent communication and focused help on how to study for the next test.
  3. Begin more units with the situations, rather than the math. Have the math arise out of the natural curiosity about a situation, rather than artificially starting with the abstract.
  4. Emphasize PQ’s as a way of connecting math to students’ faith and personal lives.

I like Tina’s student goals–so I’m stealing them. I think they’re two that I’ve tried to do in the past, though without telling the students in a straightforward way. It’s a great idea to actually tell the students what we think they should be able to do.

  1. Students will develop a growth mindset.
  2. Students will acquire responsibility for their learning.

At a Rick Wormeli conference I attended last year, he talked about how SBG enables students to take responsibility for their own learning. I’m going one step further by eliminating my Participation Points scheme, therefore cutting away any kind of “fluff” to a student’s grade. Their grade is simply a snapshot of what they know at that moment. Teacher goal 1 should help students acquire responsibility, though only if I work with students individually and remind them of how to study.

Here’s a sheet I created to staple to any quiz that a student receives a “not yet” on any assessment. Notice the place for parent signatures and parent/teacher initials when they observe the student carrying out their study plan that day. If they don’t follow through with their plan, or it proves ineffective (low assessment score again) then it’s a phone call home and a “can you encourage them to come to tutoring?” talk.

Here’s the Practice/Study Schedule for Retakes in .docx and .pdf (scribd still isn’t working for me).

Practice/Study Schedule for Retakes

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Video of a Lesson: Robert Kaplinsky’s In-n-Out Burgers

First off, thanks to Dan Meyer for alerting me to the idea of 3 Acts problems. This particular problem was created Robert Kaplinsky. You can find all of the lesson materials at this page, free of charge.

I had seen Dan Meyer present the 3 Acts lessons to teachers, and that helped shape my understanding of these problems tremendously. However, I hadn’t see one “in action”, with a bunch of real students, who may or may not already be “done” with math.


We start with some bare-bones math problem for the warm-up. Unlike last year, where “participation points” were given for working on the warm-up, there’s no obvious incentive for them to work on the warm-up, other than “so Mr. Newman doesn’t get on your case”.

Watching myself, one thing I’m glad I did was ask “if you messed up, how did you mess up?” I’m really pushing this year trying to make mistakes not only acceptable, but a great source of learning.

We open with a prayer (I try to open each class that way–this is a Christian school), and jump right into the warm-up.

The rest of the power-point is right here because you can’t really see it in the video.

Act 1

This goes pretty smoothly–most students know what In-n-Out Burger is, and the images that Robert Kaplinsky found are definitely riveting and shocking, if not simply gross enough to draw student attention. In my other period, the first question (How much does it cost?) jumps out before I even ask for questions. In the past I would have discouraged the somewhat-off-topic questions, but I find they often keep the interest of the students and makes the task genuine.

One of my favorite exchanges is:

S1: “We’re getting an In-n-Out Burger”

S2: “That’s a lie.”

It doesn’t contribute to the mathematical side of things, but it draws all the students in a little more. Time well spent (maybe 15 seconds talking about whether an In-n-out burger is coming to town?) in my opinion.

It was 10 minutes before class when I realized I hadn’t printed out the sheet that I wanted. Here’s what I had seen before and wanted (from Robert Kaplinsky:

Here was what I created, which gets at most of the same ideas:

Block Day Lesson.pdf or Block Day Lesson.docx (scribd isn’t working at the moment)

Block Day Lesson, page1Block Day Lesson, page2


I want the answers to the math questions to be earnest, so I try to treat all the questions more or less equally. That’s why I go ahead and answer the questions that I can, and we later tackle the questions that they can get. My goal is to answer everyone’s question in the end–or at least leave them with a good idea of the answers (or the tools to answer all the questions).

Act 2, part 1

I’m not sure where Act 1 ends and Act 2 begins, but I decided to cut the video where I said “Go” to the students. I was less than thrilled with students’ creative thinking, so I had a divergent thinking interlude.

Divergent Thinking interlude

My goal of this task was getting them to be more creative[1]. Part of that is helping them realize that they are more capable of being creative than they think they are.

Act 2, part 2

Now the students are more oriented to the task, and come up with a little better information. I give them the necessary information (the menu) and they take off.

Act 2, part 3

Here the students are working in groups at different rates. I do an okay job giving the group that was done first the longest/most difficult task. I really wanted one of each of the following from different groups: (1) a graph, (2) an equation, (3) a table, or a solution in another way. Some groups “thought it out” and used words, which was great.

Act 3

We (I) talked about what the graph means, what the axes mean, and what the equation “y=mx+b” means in this situation. After that, I showed them the “answer” (the receipt) and they thought it was cool. I mean, I got several of them to clap–that’s always fun when that happens in math class.

Unfortunately we ran out of time and I didn’t really get to explore “How many calories is that?” in this class, although one group in my other class (which I didn’t film) did. They found the information online by themselves (identical to the numbers that Robert Kaplinsky provides!), answered it, and even answered the question of “How much does that weigh?” They put their answer in terms of Chromebooks so we could compare to what was right in front of us.

The last part of class (which I cut from the film) just involved me teaching the students how to log into ActiveGrade. Mostly just classroom-administrative stuff that’s not nearly as interesting to watch.

Things to Improve On

Others talk about having students make approximations or estimates to increase “buy-in”. I didn’t do that because I forgot about that aspect of it, however, I think there was sufficient “buy-in” (this is pretty close to the start of the year). That’s definitely something I’ll need to do in the future, though, because it also increases their estimation abilities and allows us to discuss afterwards “Does this answer make sense?”

One thing I struggle with is finding a balance between giving students the distance they need to be creative and think on their own, yet being close enough to make sure they’re focused on the task at hand. Ideally the 3Acts is a great hook and I don’t need to be hovering over students to get them to work. But this hasn’t been my experience.

For the first half of class, the student in the front had his head down, and I had to go over and talk to him to make sure he was participating.

Watching myself teach, I talk way too much. And I answer my own questions way too much. I’ll walk away from a class thinking “that was a good class”, probably because I understood everything that happened. I need to do more formative assessment to make sure that they understand everything that’s happening.

I also haven’t made my Popsicle sticks in this class yet, so I also had the problem of the same 2-3 students answering all of my questions. Oh, and my wait time is awful. Every now and then I consciously think “just wait”, but not often when I’m excited about something. And these 3-act lessons always make me excited.

I didn’t end the lesson with a “summary activity” to make sure the students learned something. I even have a box at the bottom of my sheet “what did you learn?”, yet I didn’t take the time to fill it out. Now another day of school and a weekend will have passed, and I’m left asking myself whether it would be worth it to return just to answer that question.

One other thing I think I do is that I teach as if I’m in a rush. Yes, it feels like we have a lot to go through, and we do, but if I could slow down, I wouldn’t lose so many students, and I could take time to do things like acknowledge when a student is brave and submits his or her own mistake for review by the class.

Other Notes

I used Doceri to write on the iPad and have it show up on the projector.

I introduced Desmos to students, and they got a small glimpse of how awesome I think it is as a tool. I don’t they understand just how truly awesome it is yet, but that’ll come.

I know that this is a ridiculously long post, and I don’t expect many people (anyone?) to read it all the way through, though I hope that the video of the lesson was at least helpful. That is one thing that I would like to see more of on the MTBoS: video of teachers in real-time. I understand that many teachers (mostly public school, but some private as well) have tons of red tape to walk through to put videos online of them teaching since it usually involves students’ faces. Teacher blogs are a great window into a teacher’s classrooms, but I want to see how other teachers handle behavior problems, or keep students excited about a lesson when it starts to turn sour. This is like getting to observe other teachers in the MTBoS, which would be an awesome experience!

Another note: while this reflection/sharing was good, it took way too long–especially the video editing on my 6-year-old computer!

[1] I know that divergent thinking and creative thinking aren’t identical, but for the purposes of this activity, I used the two phrases interchangeably. Sorry.


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End of Year Physics Video

I promised my Physics students that I would create a video of their projects for them. This promise was made on the last day of class and I told them it’d be sometime in the middle of the summer that I’d be done. What does this do for them educationally if they’ve already graduated? Hopefully it’ll motivate them to get excited about science. Or maybe they’ll look a little more fondly on their physics class. At the very least, I’ll be able to use it to motivate future students and get them excited about physics.

Here’s the video for you:


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