Monthly Archives: August 2016

[MTBoS Blaugust] Algebra Properties Discovery Lesson

I want my Algebra 1 class to go as fast as possible, yet I also want them to use generation, a la “Make It Stick”[1], as much as possible. So in the middle of the night, when I couldn’t sleep, I came up with this idea.


Generation is the idea of making students struggle with something before you show them how to do it. I’m not really sure yet how much these Algebra I students have learned before this year, so I hope this’ll make it interesting for those kids who already knew it but are seeing it “from a different angle”.

The google slides should be self-explanatory[2].

(Link in case iframe is broken)

Reasons why I like this approach more than what I’ve done in the past:

  • Generation: students deciding for themselves which properties work for which operations.
  • Collaboration (and they’re using whiteboards hanging on the walls)
  • Cross-curricular: taking English definitions and applying those ideas to math concepts.
  • Mistake correcting: students have to explain why certain properties don’t work, which will (hopefully) reduce how much they make that mistake later.


[1] I still haven’t read the book, but I’ve read so much of what others have said about it, that (1) I really want to read the book and (2) I feel like I’m beginning to understand many of the ideas mentioned in the book.

[2] If they’re not, please tell me because I need to tell my students! 🙂

1 Comment

Filed under Teaching

[MTBoS Blaugust] The Cover Sheet

I like for students to use cover sheets, but the reason for students can look, on the surface, as rather selfish: “don’t steal my answers!” However, one year I figured out an explanation that makes taking out your cover sheet an altruistic measure.


I’ll type this as a dialogue since that’s the easiest way for me to explain it.

Me: Hey class, I want you to pull out a cover sheet, but does anyone know why we use a cover sheet?

Student: So people don’t CHEAT!

Me: Yes, but there’s another reason. Do you guys ever zone out while thinking or taking a quiz or a test? You know, you’re not really look at the thing where your eyes are pointing? So what if you just zoned out looking at a neighbor’s desk? I can’t see inside your head, so I don’t know that you’re not actually looking at where your eyes are pointing and in that case I would have to assume the worst. We’d have to have a chat after class, probably phone call or email home, and I don’t want to have to do that and I’m sure you don’t. However, if your neighbor had all of their answers covered up, then no-harm-no-foul. You’d be safe and we wouldn’t have to call home. So do you get it when I say “Please take out your cover sheets for your neighbor’s sake”? Nod if you’re with me on that.

*Most students nod*

Me: So please take out a cover sheet for your neighbor’s sake…

Today I had one girl afterwards explain to me that “she zones out looking at the wall, so she’s safe.”

I like how we’ve built up a sense of “we’re in this together, so let’s help each other out” in the classroom, and asking students to take out cover sheets almost feels like a pull in the opposite direction. So I like this explanation because it changes something simple, like a cover sheet, into another way for you to help the people around you.

Leave a comment

Filed under Teaching

[MTBoS] Day 4 of a New Year

Day 4 has been the best day yet. I’m really starting to see the students “get it”[1] when it comes to the Visual Pattern math talks, and we’re only 4 days in!!


Here’s a picture that sums up where we are:


Work is underway!

This picture is a good summary for several reasons:

  • I got a ticket out done in every class today! (Progress, wohoo!)
  • The Green means “Got it!” while the pink means “Need help!”. Blue and Yellow are in between.
  • Therefore many students get it, but several have a ways to go.
  • This “Ticket Out” display still has a ways to go: I have to put the meaning of each color somewhere!
  • The Ticket Outs are part of my big personal goal this year, and therefore this is meaningful in a lot of ways. I realized in the past that I’ve hesitated to collect some kind of formative assessment because then I might have to change what I’m doing. Reading (browsing) them all is enough extra work: changing my plans on top of that is even more! However, I’ve come to realize that this is one of the characteristics of good teaching: understanding the students well enough to adapt your teaching frequently. Recognizing that I didn’t want to put that much time in to adapt was a huge hurdle for me and one of the things that has helped me to actually have students do (and collect and read them). Each following day I try to read some and point out good answers and good mistakes (anonymously for the mistakes), and I think it impresses upon the students that I read these and care that they get it.

I’m excited for this year and we’re only 1 week in!


[1] Mostly because of a few that shout “I get it!!!” in the middle of our discussion.



Filed under Teaching

[MTBoS Blaugust] First Day!

I’m supposed to do a play-by-play of my entire day today, but it’s late and I need sleep more than I need the recap, so brief, brief recap to help me remember this later.


Got there at 7am, but felt like students were walking in the door 2 minutes later (it was really 8:00am, but oh well). Had 2 hours with “homeroom”, but finished all the things we were supposed to do in ~45 minutes. Oops. Fortunately I know a thing or two about having extra time, so I drew chomp on the board and we played for an hour. The kids loved it and I felt good about getting them to do logical thinking without knowing it.

After 2 fast planning periods, I pulled off my first day pretty well. I need to get clearer on my instructions, especially for the merit classes, but once everyone gets into the rhythm of warm-ups and ticket outs, they’ll all run much more smoothly.

That’s it for now, on to day 2!

Leave a comment

Filed under Teaching

[MTBoS Blaugust] Informal Lesson Plans

It’s been years since I’ve written/typed a formal lesson plan. I often would use Google Calendar to plan the day out (since it’s so easy to add, edit and move things around) and/or use the whiteboard where I write the day’s/week’s “agenda” to mentally go through each day. So I was a little nervous with my principal asked for a “weekly plan” sent to her before the week began.


However, as I began working on it, I realized that this forced me to think through the details that I so often overlook. I was very glad of the exercise and think it was time well spent.

I’d like to share those plans here. Several documents I’ve created/stolen are linked here, so I’d like to give credit to those sources. Thanks to Fawn Nguyen for the visual patterns and ideas for warm-ups all 5 days.  Thanks to Alex Overwijk for the 26 squares idea. Thanks to Julie Reulbach and NCTM Illuminations for the Cheez-it rational approximation of the irrational root idea. Thanks to my co-workers for fleshing out some ideas with me and making these more palpable. I’m sure there’s still some work to be done on these.

(Link in case iframe doesn’t work)

Please give me feedback on my informal lesson plans!

One request for ideas: what do people do early in the year when students are finishing quizzes at different times? I don’t have a good idea for Friday yet.  Thanks!


Filed under Teaching

[MTBoS Blaugust] A Day in the Life

I really want to reflect more this year, and various challenges like MTBoS Blagust are a great way for me to encourage myself. I also signed up for Tina’s “Day in the Life” book/challenge/compliation. Since it is Friday, I finally have enough time to do one of these, so here goes!

6:15 am Wake up. Pebble watch buzzes and wakes me up so I do not have to wake up my dear wife. Unfortunately she wakes up anyways. I am wondering how many more mornings I will still wake up to just a buzz on the wrist. My phone is my back-up alarm and is across the room so I have to get out of bed to turn it off.

7:00 am Arrive at school. Today is our last day (of 4) teacher workdays, so it is the day that admin gives to ourselves to get ready for the year. Since I just moved into this school and have a new classroom (and did not have my own classroom before) I started two weeks ago with nothing. I got some things laminated last night, so all morning I am laminating more, printing more signs, and putting them up. Yes, I stole liberally from Math Equals Love. She has awesome stuff. Here are some of my results:


My first time teaching GEMDAS!


Mindset poster, Student Supply Center, Class Norms, Vertical Non-permanent Surfaces, and Ticket outs!


I still need to put up an explanatory poster for the students: green is “Got it!”, blue is “Almost”, yellow is “Not sure”, red is “Nope!”

11:45 am Our PTA sponsored lunch is announced “ready to be served”. I sit down and talk a little Star Wars with the 8th grade counselor. The food was good and it’s always very kind of parents to volunteer and support teachers.

12:15 pm A question about “where the EL students are” comes up. (EL = English Learner) I am supposed to have EL students in my 3rd period, but the other 8th grade teacher is finding them in her 6th period, and there is no label for them in the online student database. After an hour of talking with various people (counselor, EL teacher, assistant principal, and the principal), it comes out that she’s the EL teacher and not me. I feel really badly for her because she’s also co-teaching the with the SPED teacher (SPED = Special Education, though it’s not labeled that anymore in this district, I think), so she has to organize and plan for 3 classes: 2 with one teacher and 1 with another teacher.

1:15 pm I meet with the other 8th grade math teacher and her SPED co-teacher. And on top of that we’re expected to have very similar grading practices and lesson plans. Fortunately I had a rough outline of week 1 for 8th grade math (26 squares, shortened version, followed by Cheez-it rational approximations of roots followed by a quiz), and fortunately the other two teachers liked many of the ideas. They both believe strongly in massed practice, however, and especially for the “lower” students, so I am not sure what to think. I would love to try lagging practice/HW with mine (therefore doing interleaved practice instead) and compare, but we will have to see. It will not be a fair comparison because of the number of SPED in those classes. However, I really appreciated the feedback they gave me–especially when it came to their approximations of how long activities would take and whether our students would have certain skills (i.e. know their multiplication tables? or be able to rationalize a fraction?)

We ended up roughly planning the whole first week, which made me excited. We will make that process more efficient the more we work together, and I will continue learning about the ability level of the students.

2:45 pm I get back to working in my classroom. I still have more posters to put up and more busy-work to do. I create sign-out sheets, tutoring sign-ups, etc. The AP walked into my room and asked if they could borrow some of my whiteboards on hooks because apparently some of the other classrooms do not even have somewhere that the teacher can write, so they were sort of in panic mode. The AP was very appreciative and it was at no cost to me because I will probably not use those whiteboards until next week. We are using manipulatives in our activities today, so it would be harder for the students to be at the wall and their tables at the same time.

My wonderful wife made me an awesome wizard for the “Wizard Wall”, where I’m going to allow students to sign their name when they are the first in their class to complete the “weekly challenge”. I got the idea from my father-in-law who did this nearly every year he taught for the 24 years he taught. He is a deeply respected teacher in the community and at his school, so if he says something worked well, I thought I should try it out. See photo below:


I plan on putting the agenda up high, at the “back” of the room, so I can see it during the class!


Those are tutoring sign-ups!


It looks great!



5:30 pm I head home (the first time). I get home to hear that my 2 year old behaved very well today though my 2-week old was very fussy in the afternoon. I was able to play with the first while holding the latter, yay!

7:00 pm After dinner I go back to school.  Because I cannot get into the school on the weekend, I need to make sure that I have my materials printed for Monday and my classroom is cleaned up a good bit.

8:15 pm I head home (the second time). I get home in time to play with my 2 year old before putting him to bed. I sit and talk with my family for a while and then sit down to type this blog around 11 pm. It’s now 11:30 as I type these words.

1. Teachers make a lot of decisions throughout the day. Sometimes we make so many it feels overwhelming. When you think about today, what is a decision/teacher move you made that you are proud of? What is one you are worried wasn’t ideal?

I was proud of how I worked with my colleagues in deciding the details of next week’s lessons. I am worried that I am not pushing enough for interleaved practice rather than massed practice, but it is a hectic time of year to be having that conversation. Maybe if the school year gets under way, we can talk about the differences in a few weeks or months.

2. Every person’s life is full of highs and lows. Share with us some of what that is like for a teacher. What are you looking forward to? What has been a challenge for you lately?

Challenge has been finding time to do all the different things. I feel I’ve dropped the ball on memorizing students’ names. I want to know them all by Monday but that might not be possible, as I still need to lesson plan for an entire class all week, including Monday!! I am looking forward to meeting the students, and seeing them interact with the warm-ups, ticket outs, and my 1st night’s homework (a get-to-know-you sheet).

3. We are reminded constantly of how relational teaching is. As teachers we work to build relationships with our coworkers and students. Describe a relational moment you had with someone recently.

I tried to comfort my fellow 8th grade teacher when she was stressed about now having to teach EL. I kept looking for ways to help her, though this will be something that I will need to do for a while. Even though she has far more experience with middle schoolers and more experience at this school, I can look for ways to help her and build that relationship.

4. Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year.

    • First post: What is a goal you have for the year?

One personal goal for the year is to do ticket outs, read them, and use them to inform my teaching. With a watch that buzzes at the right time, I think I will be better than I have been in the past.

5. What else happened this month that you would like to share?

Well, we had our second son, Daniel, born on August 1st.  Wohoo!


Filed under Teaching

[MTBoS Blaugust] All-Math Teacher Workday

Today we went to our county-wide math curriculum meeting. Fortunately the people in charge recognize that there’s a wealth of good information/teaching already sitting in the room, so they did this thing called “ED Camp” where teachers teach each other.


Nicole Paris (@solvingforx) even led a session on Desmos, but I had two other sessions I felt I had to go to. Looking back I wish I had gone to at least one of hers, but I’ve learned my lesson.

Again, the most helpful was getting to lesson plan and talk about the specifics of my school with the other 8th grade math teacher. She didn’t think that 26 squares was bat-poo crazy, so I’m really glad of that. The more I work with her, the more I’m excited to get to teach parallel to her.

Assessment came up and the consensus was to not allow retakes, but to allow quiz corrections to get credit back on the quiz. I’m cool with that, mostly because it sends the message “this stuff you didn’t learn is still important for you to learn” but I want to introduce some kind of review into the assessments, so I’ll have to work on those as they come up and share that with my grade level.

Whew, it’s late and I have a big day tomorrow, so I’m going to stop here and blog much more tomorrow night.

Leave a comment

Filed under Teaching

[MTBoS Blaugust] Pulled in Many Directions

Today we had staff meetings and I now need to be careful what I say because my Principal is following me on twitter[1]!



Today I experienced a feeling, and the best way to explain it is the header of this post. It’s late so I just wanted to quickly list the directions I feel pulled so that I can start to wrap my mind around which things need more of my time so that I can manage my time better. Here’s a list of pulling forces, in no particular order:

  • Desire to learn my students names[2].
  • Lesson plan for 8th grade math and Algebra I
  • Figuring out when/how to use the right tools in my classroom[3].
  • Administrative duties.
  • Family time.
  • Blogging.
  • Building relationships with my colleagues.
  • Working out Benchmark tests and End of Year State Assessments.
  • Sleeping.
  • Figuring out how assessments will look in my classroom and taking as many of the SBG principles as possible even though I cannot implement SBG.

Some of those pulls have complex relationships. For example, the assessment piece: administration wants grade levels to agree when it comes to assessments and grades, so I want to appreciate and understand what my colleague does, yet also want to keep as many of the principles I hold dear to in my class. Above all this looms the state-mandated tests which involve technology on a platform that we can use on some assessments, but we can’t create our own assessments on that platform, so we can’t use the platform “whenever we want”.

See why I feel pulled in several directions?

Oh, and I think that my fellow 8th grade math teacher is pretty awesome–I’m glad that I’m getting to teach with her!

And now sleep is pulling me…


[1] I’m actually really excited about this fact. She even lead a session today on “how to join and use Twitter as a teacher”!

[2] …and begin building a relationship with them before I even meet them in class. This is something I really want to work on this year.

[3] Part of this is figuring out how much technology I have: How often can I use the chromebook carts? How many of my students have their own devices? How many of my students have internet at home?


Filed under Teaching

[MTBoS Blaugust] First Teacher Day Back

Today was busy, yet had very few meetings. The day officially started at 11:30 because we had to (got to?) stay until 7pm for back-to-school night. One parent already informed me that she found my “blog”. I’m really hoping she’s referring to my teacher website from before, but at least I stand by this blog as a fair representation of what I do in the classroom. 🙂


Our all-staff meeting was only an hour this morning, which was nice, thought a lot of info came at me at the end and I still feel like I’m missing something.

After that, we were allowed to continue working on our classroom, presumably to get ready for back-to-school night, but I was just worried about Monday. I’m still waiting for the laminator (why doesn’t Google spellcheck recognize that as a legitimate word?!) to work. Or, more accurately, be worked by someone who knows what they’re doing so I can get my “things to go up on the wall” all laminated.  Therefore my classroom was quite bare, but I was able to use the one-liner “sorry that my classroom isn’t set up, I just moved from New Mexico” and that worked great as a conversation starter.

I did end up putting QR codes around the room: my resume website, codes, a math comic, the mathcounts website, previous student work, among other things. Most students and/or parents had a smartphone, but most of those didn’t seem to want to spend that much time in the room. And several said that they didn’t have a QR code reader installed on their phones. Oh well, hopefully it impressed the few parents/students who did check them out.

Speaking of impressed, I was also able to impress a few students by already having their names known. I didn’t know them immediately, but after a second I could recall a few. Now I just need to keep studying them until I’ve got them really down before Monday rolls around.

Okay, it’s late and I’ve got a full days worth of meetings tomorrow. We’re in the “everything feels blurry” phase right now[1]. Why is that?


[1] Yes, my contacts are out, but no, that’s not what I’m talking about!


Filed under Teaching

[MTBoS Blaugust] Last Day before Work

It’s the last day before all teachers have to go back. And I head into school in the afternoon.


I thought I’d be the only one, but I was (pleasantly?) surprised to see a handful of other teachers already back. I met a few more, including the Math Dept chair, and got to work printing/making more posters for my classroom.

Or I would have except that the internet went down for about an hour and a half, so I couldn’t use Google Drive[1] and couldn’t see any of my files to print anything.

Fortunately it came back on and I was able to print the last of my papers, but I’m going to have to wait for someone to laminate[2] them before putting them up, which means back-to-school night (which happens tomorrow!) will involve my classroom being bare unless someone laminates it tomorrow.

Meanwhile I think I’m going to have to convince the math department to even let me allow reassessments in my classroom. I think I’ll make a short list of my top reasons why students should be allowed to reassess on quizzes/tests, which is intricately tied to SBG for me.

  • The parachute graph from this post.
  • By not allowing retakes, we’re saying “all students should learn at the same rate”, which is not true. If you don’t even allow quiz corrections, then we’re saying “don’t worry about the content of this quiz, on the score”.[3]
  • Oh, and the “but they don’t do it at the next level” is bananas. The most important tests you will take allow “retakes”: SAT, ACT, GRE, MCAT, LSAT, Medical Boards, Law Bars, Driver’s License, Pilot’s License. Sure, it might cost more money[4], but you can retake it and ignore your previous score.

I’ve got those as my “top 3”. I could find/think of more, but I might not have much time to explain my reasoning and want to get to the core of why I would like students to be allowed to reassess.

Meanwhile I’m reading up on how to do SBG when you’re not allowed to. An encouraging read!

So there’s the list of things I’d like to do to get ready for back-to-school night, but again feel like my hands are tied. Can’t make my room look nice because I can’t use the laminator. Can’t make a syllabus because our principal asked us to wait. Apparently is used widely in our school, so I’m going to wait before I print off 110 of the explanations of how to join, and hopefully only need to write the code up on the board and only print a few sheets for the newer students. So here’s a list of things I’d like to do sometime tomorrow once I get the go-ahead from the various sources.

  • Decorate my room more.
  • Create/print class rules[5].
  • Get codes put up somewhere.
  • Be ready to hand out information about Mathcounts.
  • Print off something to encourage parents to help their children “talk more math“[6].
  • Think about what else I want to tell parents and students on a night a week before school starts.

Here’s my room as it is now.


Yay: I got many whiteboards up on the walls. Unfortunately that add no color to the room and it still looks awful. Maybe I can talk about how the desks are arranged and I want the students to do more collaborative work. We’ll see!


[1] After the internet came back on, I turned  “offline mode” on for my classroom computer. I hadn’t thought of this before, but it makes sense that this is a computer-by-computer setting.

[2] Teachers can’t use the laminator.

[3] I heard many of these ideas from Rick Wormeli.

[4] I have so many students this year that I’m thinking of requiring students to bring in a “proof of study/practice” as a “payment” in order to retake a quiz.

[5] Haven’t done this yet as it goes along with the “don’t make a syllabus yet” instructions.

[6] Perhaps I could put that blog up as a QR code. Perhaps I could put up several QR codes while the parents & students are in my room!



Filed under Teaching