Monthly Archives: May 2016

Letter to the Next Teacher

This summer my family is moving to Maryland, closer to my parents and my wife’s parents. I’m the only Precalculus, Chemistry, and Physics teacher at my school, so my replacement won’t have anyone teaching the same subjects to help. I’m leaving all of my resources to the next teacher in hopes that they’re used (I’ve worked hard on them!), but I also need to write a letter to the teacher (1) explaining some of the most useful teaching strategies here and (2) what to expect in each of the classes.

I don’t know if anyone else will find this letter helpful (or even if the incoming teacher will!) but I thought I’d post it here anyway just in case.

Dear Rehoboth’s next Precalculus, Chemistry, and Physics teacher,

Welcome to Rehoboth! You’re going to love teaching here. The students are great and your boss and co-workers are even better. Because of all of that it’s a very rewarding job as students and staff appreciate good teaching. Let me give you a  heads up to help you with your first year here.

If you have questions, go to Chris, Tim or Kalee. Both Tim and Kalee are great teachers with very different styles, but both have the students’ interests first and can help you understand the culture better. Kalee especially understands how I ran things last year, so go to her if you have questions about my classroom because she can explain most, if not all, of my materials and methods.

One tip that took me too long to learn is “when planning, start with your assessments (quizzes/tests/etc.) and work backwards”. Students are more focused and willing to learn if they know they’re going to be tested on it, so doing these first when planning helps you mostly teach what’s going to be assessed. These past few years I’ve given only quizzes, and those start with a “Q” in Google Drive, so they’re easy to find. There are several versions of each quiz so that students can come “requiz” during Lynx Lab, some tutoring lunches, or before or after school. Sometimes it’s good to give students one of the versions before you even start the unit so they know exactly what to expect.

I use standards based grading. Feel free to discover your own flavor (or don’t use it, but it’s a game changer–talk to Kalee!), but here’s a quick rundown of my flavor. There are three questions on each quiz. Students can get a 0, 1, 2, or 3, depending on how many questions they get right. A 2 is passing, a 3 demonstrates mastery, so I often try to make the 3rd question more difficult. Passing a class could look like passing 2/3 of the standards. Students can go back and study or learn old material at any point and demonstrate their new understanding to improve their grade (retake another version of the quiz). Often in math I just grab three questions from the textbook (even numbered, since odd are in the back of the book). Oh, and talk to Kalee about how she enters these grades into RenWeb (our online gradebook). RenWeb technically has a “Standards Based Grading” option, but students can’t see the grades, so it’s utterly useless and not really SBG because of that, unless they’ve fixed it in the past year.

In Chemistry, I was able to get through about 1 standard a week: Notes on Monday, Practice on Tuesday (often combine notes and practice across Monday & Tuesday for better retention), Lab on Thursday, and Quiz on Friday.  I made copies of two students’ notes, so use those if you’d like to use my guided notes for each topic. You’ll have to figure out how to grade labs–I’ve done it differently every year I’ve done labs and I’d still keep changing it up if I was here again next year. I have a prequiz for nearly every standard: that should be a 5-10 minute warm-up on Monday. If you use Gradecam, students can grade themselves, and it helps them to see what they need to learn. You can also do the same prequiz on Thursday for them to see “where they are”, though I didn’t grade either one since they likely had the answers the second time around.

In Precalculus, we tried to tackle two standards a week, but often fell behind. Second semester I tried a flipped classroom and had some success doing it. Here’s the take home notes playlist–I tried to assign two of these a week and the students were able to keep up pretty well: Precalculus Take Home Notes. I used EDPuzzle which gives them questions as they go so they’re paying attention. On top of that, I gave them take home notes (you’ll find these in Google Drive) so they would be doing something while watching. When they got to class they would get into randomly assigned groups and work on the “homework” problems from the textbook. Oh, and you’ll notice nearly all quizzes are taken straight from the textbook (possibly with some alterations). That’s something new I did this year so students could go to the textbook for practice problems and studying. On block days try a 3 Act Lesson (or see this website). Students learn to love them and they teach crucial skills that they wouldn’t otherwise get in math class such as critical thinking, estimation, and identifying the important information in a situation. They’re best as an introduction to a new topic, but it took me a few years to even start to figure out how to do that.

In Physics, I followed Kelly O’Shea’s website and used her resources. Seriously, go read her modeling stuff and ask her (or me) if you have questions. We also did fun projects to end most units, but don’t wait until the end of the unit to assign it or students will spend half their class time doing projects. I like to assign them half-way into a unit, that way we get to the end of the unit right as the project is done and we can analyze it using the physics we just learned. Don’t be afraid to require students to buy supplies–they can and will impress you with how creative they can be on these projects. I’ve left older projects lying around the HS (especially catapults, in case any students don’t finish theirs or don’t have the finances to make them).

In all the classes I wish I had done a better job of holding students accountable for previous material. This could look like a question or two on later quizzes to make sure they’re reviewing and remembering older stuff. This may be painful until they learn to study correctly, but it’ll be worth it–especially in math.

Use the 2′ x 3′ whiteboards.  They’re all yours (no other teacher uses them much). These are great for 2-4 students to work collaboratively on problems.

Other good warm-up stuff for math class includes Estimation 180 (I used a Google Form to collect responses), Visual Patterns, WODB, and Math Talks.

Oh, and use the Desmos calculator. I don’t think you can use it too much. Here’s some of the ways you can use it. I used it mostly in Precalculus, but often in Physics as well.

Get to know the new secretary and be really nice to her–her job is really tough and she’ll probably do more for you if she likes you. You’re lucky that your classroom is right across the hall so you can say hi more easily than most other teachers. You’re also lucky you’re right next to the printer, but don’t expect it to work the morning you need it to.

Oh, and there’s a staff bathroom in  “media closet” to the right of the staff lounge. Nobody told me about that my first semester and a half.

Use as much or as little of the material in Google Drive as you want–I won’t be offended either way. I also have a website with every standard on it that I want to give to the next teachers, but don’t want to overly impose, so please let me know if you’d like it (you can change the name and URL when you get it).

My personal email is jnewman85 ‘at’ gmail ‘dot’ com, so feel free to email me with questions. I really care about the school and the students so you can’t email me too much. Even down to “where did you keep the test tubes?”, I’d be more than happy to help. In fact I’ll be a little offended if you don’t email me.  🙂

Thank you for teaching the students at Rehoboth and I hope you have a great year!

In Christ,


PS — As Tina (@crstn85) reminded me, if it’s your first year teaching, then you should check out this list of letters to first year teachers.

PPS — The above PS is from this awesome online math community called the Math Twitter Blog-o-Sphere, or MTBoS for short. You should check them out because they will make you a better teacher. Warning: drinking from fire hydrant ahead.


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End of Year Shots

The students are gone (well, graduation is tomorrow), and I’m cleaning up my room for the last time here at Rehoboth. I’m actually starting to get a bit nostalgic already, so I started taking pictures of things around the room. Thought I’d share them here, perhaps to remind myself next year of what worked and what didn’t.

2016 Board

I found this from someone else online (I gave them credit in a previous post) and it started several students talking about math between classes!

Tutoring Sign-ups

Tutoring sign-up. Each of these sheets has about ~35 names, so in all I helped over students 300 times in tutoring. Most of those came right before report cards.

Hall Pass + Mole

Found an old “Laser Disk” and turned it into a hall pass. Oh, and a student crocheted me a mole for extra credit (back when I gave it) for Mole Day!


Agenda on the wall. I used to write this daily, but I forgot so many days. Doing it weekly gave students a heads up, told absent students what we did yesterday, and had all week’s homework up there. Definitely do this “weekly” again next year.

Messy Drawer

The right side of this picture is older stuff and left is newer. Used to give extra credit “choice cards” for doing your HW, always need tape for labeling chemistry glassware, gum for chemistry’s gum lab, dice are important for any math teacher to have, and the box of orange markers for students to grade themselves. I’ll be taking much of that with me.

Mole Day Moles

Ahh, back when I did “Participation Points”, students could bring in a mole for Mole Day. One cunning student even brought in a mole with Avogadro’s number (6.02*10^23) on it. Future students were allowed to look up and see the mole on any quiz or test where they needed it.

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Filed under Teaching