A Fresh Start

So…again, this place is super duper dusty. School happened, husband became Senior Pastor at church, a new house was moved into, baby #3 was born, and school happened some more…eek!! I really WANT to stay active in the blog world. So, an attempt again…

As school was happening, there were some shifts that occurred in our district. Long story short, I am moving from part HS/part MS to full time MS this year (100% by choice!). This means I get my own room for the first time since I started in this district. Additionally, I will be teaching one 7th grade section, one accelerated 7th (8th grade content), and all of our District’s 8th graders (including Alg I…which I have taught here the last 3 years). New curriculum time for me!!

I have 14 pictures I could post…but that would be insane. Instead, here is a picture of a magazine holder I found in a room that has furniture that is up for grabs. I am thinking it will hold work for absent students, work for extra practice (think Wall of Remediation)…one column (each a different color) for each class I teach. Any other ideas of how I could use this?

Magazine shelf











Another unique piece of “furniture” I found was an old lab table on wheels. It has character and fits perfectly in front of the vault that is in my room. No, really, there is a vault in my room because it used to be the office (see below). It isn’t used, but creates some “nooks” in my room. It’s right inside my door, so the lab table will sit there with handouts, supplies, etc, needed for the day. More pics as that space comes to life! Anyway, in the lab table, one of the cabinets had a “silver” platter from Dollar General in it. I decided to spruce it up with some chalkboard paint. I then stole an idea from here . Here’s the outcome…

Awesome Sign

Vault corner











I made a document in Pages; printed it by flipping horizontally, traced with normal chalk, rubbed it onto the platter, and then used chalk markers to trace! It was pretty easy, and I think it’s fun. I will probably hang it in the hallway by my door!

That’s all for now. Hopefully I will make time to update as I work on my room, as well as the curriculum!


#Made4mathmonday: Algebra I Brochure

So, last year, sometime after I’d already prepped my beginning of the year materials I happened upon this idea for a class brochure instead of a handout with class rules/policies on it. I LOVED it, and spent quite a bit of time today creating my own. Here is my draft. I need to read over it a few more times for typos and maybe to condense some. Additionally, I am torn about my quotes. I want to convey that this year students may be challenged more than normal, and that class structure will be different than what they (and I) are used to…but I also don’t want to scare them (or their parents). What do you all think? Advice? Thoughts?


Summer Reading

I frequently pick up books to read…for school, for pure fun, for personal growth, etc…but rarely finish them as promptly as I buy them. This has been a trend for the last 10 years. I guess I’m not good at setting aside time to just read. I hop on my computer, or get on my phone, or watch TV, or sleep….or spend time with my kids ;). This summer I decided to take Jo Boaler’s How to Learn Math course online. When registering for the class, I saw she recommends reading a book to supplement it. I went ahead and bought it, and promptly read 30 or so pages of it. I thought I was doing great! But then, old habits crept back. Oh, and we had a 3 day workshop with two math consultants for our district. They were using Making Sense: teaching and learning mathematics with understanding as the core of our workshop. What I LOVED about this is they built time into every day for us to read DURING the workshop. I was forced to read, and take notes on, the book! It was great!!! While, I haven’t finished the book completely (there are a few chapters that are vignettes of actual classrooms…but all are elementary classrooms and I teach high school), it was a fulfilling and enriching exercise. I got so much out of it!

While trying to push myself to read, the good ole MTBoS was doing this great thing that helps keep teachers somewhat accountable…some book chats! I noticed some were reading 5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Discussions . It turns out one of my colleagues ordered the book for school. She read it, and then passed it along to me. In order to participate in the book chat, I had catching up to do…I am FINALLY ready to be a part of the book chat on Twitter this week…even though there are only a couple more chapters to go. It also turns out that Margaret (Peg) Smith was the first keynote speaker of the NCTM Institute for HS teachers that I attended last week in Washington DC. I hadn’t researched the speakers ahead of time, and didn’t recognize her name when I saw her on the agenda. But when I settled in for the first morning, I did a quick Google search and realized that she wrote this book that I had just started!! What an exciting surprise! She was a great speaker, and I will write more about that this week as I reflect on the Institute (which really was fabulous…though maybe not as fabulous as #tmc13 that I missed out on). I am excited to interact in this format and really hope someone gets a new one going after this. Being in a small school, there aren’t many people with whom to do things like this with, and the wonderful MTBoS is so large, it allows for these types of things, and while you feel accountable to them, you don’t feel like you’re a terrible person if you can’t join 100% of the time.

My latest summer read has been Mathematics Formative Assessment: 75 Practical Strategies for Linking Assessment, Instruction, and Learning. I don’t remember who I first found this through, but I put it on my Christmas list last year and got it! Since we drove (yes, 12ish hours with stops) to DC and back, that gave me quite a bit of time to get several chapters of a couple of books in. I was able to get through the first three chapters of the book, which is all about how to use the assessment strategies given. Though it was tempting to jump to the strategies, I found it was very beneficial to read the first three chapters that framed how to better assess in the classroom. This tied in well to what Dylan Wiliam, author of Embedded formative assessment, had to say during his keynote at the NCTM Institute (yes…another surprise since I hadn’t really looked ahead of time to see who the keynotes were). Oh, and there’s a book chat on his book going on Twitter right now, too!! So the 75 FACTs are challenging me, as are Wiliam’s words, to do a better job of assessing as I teach to INFORM my instruction and not just evaluate as an end piece. What I love about this book is the practical ideas it gives. I glanced through the 75 FACTs and saw I have done, or knew about several, but it gives me better ideas of how to use them, and gives me so many more tools to pull from my toolbox. I can’t wait to start implementing!

So…long enough post, with little reflection on the actual books. I will try and do a little more summarizing later. My point is this…I chalk the Summer of 2013 up as a win in the professional reading arena. I must give some credit where credit is due…on my own these books probably would have just sat and gathered dust. 1) Al Otto and Cheryl Lubinski—these were our math consultants who did the workshop in our district and provided time to read! 2) One of the teacher’s I work with…she’s devouring books this summer and has pushed me to do the same. 3) Long road trips…I have been in a car from central IL to Orlando (and back) and from central IL to DC (and back). I feel like I have a better frame of mind to start this school year, and am in a much better position to make the changes that need to be made to facilitate a more mathematical classroom. 4) The opportunity to interact with others doing the same thing I am: whether at our school’s workshop, the MTBoS, or my colleague, I have been surrounded by people doing the same thing I am. The accountability and encouragement is what has really driven me. To see I am not alone in trying to further myself and become a better teacher has been super encouraging!

#made4mathmonday Tuesday edition ;)

So…long story short…I started the new blogger initiative last year. I did well for awhile. Then school started and I was preparing for maternity leave that was the second 9 weeks of school. When I returned in January, I had an additional prep (making 5) and never got settled enough to make this a part of my routine. Excuses, excuses, right?


Anyway, I have been following so many people on Twitter and so many blogs since then that I keep feeling the desire (and a bit of guilt) to start contributing more! So, here’s something quick I made up today. The idea for these are from a coworker (with whom I am revamping our Alg I Curriculum ENTIRELY this year…more on that later, most likely). We have issues of students walking off with calculators they borrow while in our room. She mentioned making a checkout card for them and they have to place it in the calculator caddy she has hanging in her room when they borrow a calculator. This allows for a quick visual of what is missing and who is responsible. I don’t have a hanging calculator caddy in “my room” (my home base that I teach in twice a day, luckily the other one I teach math in is hers…more on my schedule another day) but found a small hanging pocket chart in the Dollar Section at Target the other day. Here is the PDF of the business size cards I am making for my students. I will laminate them and write their name on it. They will have to have it to borrow a calculator (I will most likely hole punch it so they can put it in their binder). I am contemplating putting something on the back (maybe Emergency–locker/restroom–passes that I will cross off as they use). We’ll see.

Target Dollar Spot Pocket Charts

Target Dollar Spot Pocket Charts

Calculator Check Out Card

Review Games and Activities

I am looking forward to this week’s topic because I need some fresh review ideas! I hope that something I write about will help someone out and this week isn’t all about me borrowing ideas from other people, but also contributing to other math teachers. 


Jeopardy w/ Buzzers: I have used a PowerPoint template for Jeopardy on several occasions. Usually I use this to review a large amount of content, like near final exam time. It allows me to cover several chapters worth of content in one game. Lately, my classes have been small enough to break my students into four teams. I use these for answer buzzers. My students LOVE when I pull these out, and are very choosy about which color/sound they get! 


Post-It Note Review: This isn’t necessarily a game, but I find it to be a good source of feedback for me. I break students into teams and give them several questions. I then tell them to work on a certain section of 4-6 problems. Once they decide on answers as a team, they write down the problem number, group name/symbol/number, and solution on a small post it. When they have all of the problems done, they put them on the board, where I have a section for each problem. I set my timer for a certain amount of time, and they have to finish in the given time. I like using this because I can still “keep score”, which the students like. It also allows me to see if the entire class has a strong understanding of a concept, or if no one has a good grip on what we’ve covered. 


Around the Room: I use this for review, but just for an in class activity, too. I simply print off a set of problems, and tape them around the room in a variety of locations. There is only one problem per page. I pair students up and they walk around working through their problems. I do not have them timed, but will occasionally check in to see how much progress the students have made. 


Stations: For this activity, I pair desks together. Students work in pairs, again, and work through the problem(s) at their pair of desks. I set my timer, and when it goes off students rotate to the next station. At the next station is a file folder with neon paper in it that has a worked out key for students to check their work. I use the bright paper so I can quickly see how long students are using the key, and can go work with students who seem to be struggling or get them in gear if they are being lazy and just using the key to write down answers. 


I don’t use too many other games during class. I have used a football game , with a template I found on SMART Exchange. I have also played a baseball game with my students, where if the students get an answer correct they draw an index card. The index cards have a variety of positive outcomes: BB, 1B, 2B, 3B, HR. I put more 1Bs in than other hits, and if students get a problem wrong they get an out. I tend to use these while the games are “in season”. 

If only I’d known…

Attention New Teachers:

I remember being a new teacher, 8 years ago?!?! In fact, there are still days when the newness is there, especially as I transitioned to my current position last year. It kind of was like starting over again. Luckily, I had a super great mentor who helped me both during student teaching and my first year (and still does, though we’re not close geographically anymore). She has taught me tons, and without her this list may be a lot longer! There are definitely things you don’t learn in college. I don’t know if it’s necessarily that no one tries to teach these things…some things you just have to learn on the job and aren’t ready to listen to until you experience it.


I wish someone had told me…


  • I would have days where I seriously doubted my profession (and ability to teach). There were times that hit me like a brick (and days that it still creeps up on me). I really hadn’t suffered much failure up through college. Perhaps that means I didn’t take enough risks, or didn’t step out of my comfort zone. I generally stuck with things I was good at. When I had a bad day where it was clear students were not learning from me, it cut deep. It still does. There were tears, there were frustrations, and there were naps (I enjoy sleeping things off…it usually makes me feel better). Oh, and there was ice cream because ice cream has a way of making the world right again! I’m not going to lie, there are still times that I need those tears, the sleep, or the ice cream. Fortunately, those days are fewer and farther between. When this happens, sometimes I just question my placement and start looking at job banks to see what else is out there! In the end, though, I know that I am doing what I was created to do. Maybe it’s not my forever purpose, but it is my purpose right now.


  • It’s okay to take things personally, just don’t let it own you. Now, some of you may be shaking your head and saying NEVER to take what students say or do to heart. I.just.can’t.do.that. It is against every fiber of my being. And, I don’t think that’s ALWAYS a bad thing. There are definitely times I have had to let comments slide off of my back…names I’ve been called, things students have said when they’re having a rough day (and it’s obvious I’m not the real issue). But, there is also worth in their feedback, however positive or negative it may be. We’re there for the students. It’s important to be able to reach them to teach them. If they are having a problem with something, I need to hear that, take it to heart and try a new strategy. Sometimes that’s just a matter of taking what I did and putting it in a new package.


  • I wouldn’t always be stuck in the low level math classes. I don’t know about the rest of you all…but around here it seems like often times new teachers get the pleasure of teaching the lower level classes. That was the case with me. I had 3 sections of Algebra I and 2 sections of “Applied Math I” my first year. Algebra I has stuck with me pretty much my entire teaching career (so you’d think I’d be good at it, right? I still haven’t determined that 🙂 ).  Those Applied Math classes really tested me my first year. I don’t know if admins do it to put you through trial by fire, or if as you climb the seniority ladder most places give you more preference (not the case, necessarily at my other two schools), but wow…did it ever challenge me and test me. I now know that it isn’t the case everywhere that you get the higher level classes as you move up in seniority. In fact, I know of people who have walked into upper level classes in their first and second years of teaching. For some reason, though, I kind of love that group of students. They are TOUGH to teach. They generally HATE math. But I think that’s a bit of my niche…to work with those students. They have a soft spot in my heart, as much as I hate to admit it sometimes.


  • Keep a warm fuzzy file. Well, someone did tell me to do that…my wonderful mentor mentioned above made me one. I still have it. What is a warm fuzzy file? All of those sweet things students do for you. Pictures they’ve colored me, signs they’ve made me, notes they’ve left me, etc. It sits in my drawer and when I’m having a rough day, I get it out and look through it. There are still things from my first year of teaching that make me cheese! The file isn’t huge, but there’s probably at least one thing per year that is in there and allows me to reflect on why it’s all worth it in the end.


  • It’s okay (and probably good) to borrow and steal. I don’t think it’s been until the last few years that I have become pretty good at hunting out other people’s ideas and modifying them to fit my classroom. It’s not always about being creative, but about using resources that are out there. I hope to become a better contributor to the open sharing of creative lessons as I continue on this blog journey. But so far, I have been a much better treasure hunter than creator. I have found so much worth in going outside of my textbook. When I started teaching, I was definitely driven by the book and rarely went outside of it. That has changed, and this year, my students have yet to receive a textbook from me (we’re in our second full week now), and may not (shhh…don’t tell…not sure if that’s frowned upon?).


So, new teachers, good luck! While the first year can be trying…it’s all worth it in the end! Stick it out; find someone you can talk to/vent with; and stay focused on why you are doing this crazy job in the first place. You will see rewards for it…maybe small and infrequent…but keep your eyes open, they’re there!