Saturday, August 12, 2017

An Outstanding First Day and Week!   2017-2018

School started for us this past week.  I can honestly say this may be the best first week of school I have ever had- I feel so blessed!   My students are so good-natured and hard-working; they remembered more from last year than I ever could have imagined.  I only discovered that at the end of the week as we spent the first part of the week getting to know each other and doing cool math-y activities.

The first two days back I did a couple of Sara Van der Werf’s activities that I had not implemented yet.  The first was the 1-100 number task for group-work skills building.  The students were just as engaged as I had seen in pictures on Twitter from other teachers who have done this activity.  Below is a picture from my senior Calculus students working on it.  If you have not tried this activity yet, you much do so – it is a total winner!  Even if you have started school already, it can still be done before you start any routine group work for the year to help students work together in groups.

I introduced my students to Ken-Ken puzzles this year again but in a different way.  I had seen this idea on Twitter, but I cannot remember who posted it.  Anyway, I started by putting a Ken-Ken puzzle on the projector like this:

I then had the students stand and go find a different partner for this activity.  I had them do what Sara Van der Werf calls a “stand and talk”.  I gave them 2-3 minutes to look at the solved puzzle and talk about things they noticed about the numbers and patterns in the solutions.  We then came back together as a class and people shared what they had talked about.  Together they shared observations such as how the "numbers in bold" operated together to get the number at the top of the box, that no numbers were repeated in rows or columns like Sudoku, and they noticed that only certain digits were used..  Given that, I clicked on the link for a new unsolved 4 x 4 Ken-Ken puzzled that we solved together as a class.  They got through it very quickly and were actively engaged.  That was on Tuesday, and by Friday they endeavored to solve a 5 x 5 puzzle.  They struggled a bit with an extra row and column, and they did not finish it before the bell, but I told them that we would pick up from there next week.  They had tried a new level, and I was proud of their motivation.  Below is the link to the site for Ken-Ken puzzles that I used:

Also on Tuesday after the Ken-Ken puzzle time, we played Sara’s 5 x 5 grid game.   After using some of the period for Ken-Ken puzzles, we played two rounds of this game.  I had the students work in pairs, and for the first round of the game I told them to place the numbers anywhere in the grid they wanted as I drew the cards.  While drawing the cards, I could hear them talking about placing the numbers a certain way; they were trying to figure out what the strategy would be.  After the first round, we discussed what strategies they used; many were trying not to place repeats side by side thinking that was a penalty.  In fact, the strategy is to place as many side by side as possible, but I loved hearing about the strategies they were using.  After I showed them Sara’s blog post of the grids and how they are scored, they got really excited for the next round.  I especially enjoyed talking about the slides she had where they had to figure out which placement of a set of 4 tens would yield more points.  Most student pairs had earned anywhere from 20-50 points in the first round, but after we played the 2nd round, their scores ranged from 140-200 points; what a difference.  It was fun to watch them during the 2nd round as they were intent on working together to get adjacent placement of numbers as much as possible.  I did a 1st and 2nd place winner in each class, and they earned a free homework pass to be used during review work at the beginning of the year.  That way if there is a topic they already feel strong in, it gives them some free time.   Here is a picture after we had just finished round 2, and they were calculating their scores.

Because Sara’s blog was up on the projector during the game, they noticed her and asked about her.  I told them that she was probably one of the best math educators in our country, and I believe that to be true.  I also told them behind the name tents that we were working on too; they thought that was really cool!   By doing this, I established myself as a teacher who is also an active learner from other teachers.  They probably know teachers share materials, but seeing it in action from across the country seemed to interest them a lot.   

Also throughout the whole first week, I did name tents for the second year in a row.  This year I included two days for them to ask me questions; one more random, and one about classroom policies/expectations that they still may be wondering about.  It takes a fair amount of time the first week to respond each day, but it is TOTALLY WORTH IT to do this with your students as a tool for getting to know them and letting them know that they are valued as individuals in your classroom.   The question-answer part of the name tents gives students a more private way of communicating with their teacher without having to comment or ask questions during class.  A few students really shared a lot about their extra-curricular involvements, career goals, and interests beyond the scope of questions, and I really enjoyed reading and dialoguing with them!   One student asked if we were going to do this every week.  Unfortunately, time will not allow for that, but I have decided to utilize the name tents more than last year.  One, I am going to use them to set-up groups throughout the semester rather than write names in marker on desks.  Two, I think we will paste in a second page the first week of second semester and do this again.  That way I can do a check in on the class and what is working for them or not, ask them how their holidays were, and because they are juniors, I can start seeing what they are thinking about for post-secondary options.

Lastly, as mentioned in my last blog, I set up a play table/area in my classroom for puzzle and pattern play.  My teacher friends thought it was cool, but my husband and son thought I was nuts!  They did not think juniors in high school would want to “play with blocks”.  Well, right back at them I can say absolutely they do.  The look on my husband’s face when I showed him this picture was priceless!

So yes, big kids do “play with blocks”, enjoy it, and I love that they enjoy doing this in their down time.  Here are some cool patterns that ended up on the table by the end of school on Friday:

All of the above said activities made for a great first week back.  Though I was tired by Friday as usual, I was also very happy and energized; that is a new and wonderful feeling.   Gone are the days of focusing on syllabuses, pre-tests, and “getting started as soon as possible” on course curriculum.  I had slowly lost those items over the most recent years, but I cringe when I remember years when that is what the first days looked like in my classroom.    It is so much more important to take the time to make math fun and get to know my students, and this is not something I will be willing to ever give up again.   I owe many thanks to the network of colleagues I have in the MTBoS who have taught me to see and try new things.  It allows me to be an active teacher learner and provide my students with great experiences in math.  This week was the biggest example of that yet!

One fun thing that happened that I had not planned on was using Elissa Miller’s classroom strategy of  "Two Nice Things”.  A student in pre-calculus called out another student across the room, and immediately Elissa’s rule popped into my mind, and I said immediately “now you have to say two nice things about him!”   It worked!  The kids were immediately on board and agreeing, and the student followed through!  Also, did not hear that happen again the rest of the week –

So you see – the things we learn from each other are always with us, whether we plan to use them or not.  They are in our minds for any moment we may need themJ

Sunday, August 6, 2017

A New School Year = New Goals!!!!

Tomorrow marks the official start for my school district for the 2017-2018 school year.  I am really excited to be officially in the classroom again returning to the school I was at in the fall of last year.  A lot has changed since leaving the classroom last December:  realizing teaching was still my true love for a career, realizing that the school district I left was in fact the best fit for me and my home, and finally making a commitment to myself to not overload with things that overshadow my passions; easier said than done of course!

My teaching schedule this year includes Honors Pre-calculus and Non-AP Calculus.  I have taught pre-calculus before, but Calculus will be a new challenge for me as a course even though I have tutored it for many years.   What is most energizing to me is that neither course has a standardized test tied to it, and this will be the first time in my career that I have had this opportunity.  I can teach at the pace that is comfortable for learning in my classroom, and we can delve deeper into topics and incite meaningful learning in our classroom.  I am the only one teaching both courses in my school, which is also a bonus – this year it is all about my kids and I and what works best for our classroom.  I intend to embrace this teaching gift with every fiber of passion in my teaching soul!!!

In addition to an awesome teaching schedule, I am returning to a department of colleagues I came to miss a lot last spring as well as many new ones that seem to be very motivated and hard-working.  Our school has a new learning incentive for Algebra 1 and Geometry courses to improve our EOC test scores.  We received extra positions to meet the needs of this program, and now each Algebra 1 and Geometry teacher will have between 15-20 students only to allow for learning needs of all students to be properly met, and students are able to learn as they go/move on when ready after each concept rather than fit into a “one-size fits all” pacing for the year.  It is an incredible opportunity for 9th and 10th grade students and teachers!  So far, I have been asked to lead in the professional development and resourcing involved prior to pre-planning and in contribution to the first week of instruction.  Being a member of MTBOS definitely helped me to provide rich and powerful teaching resources to them.

As school starts tomorrow, here are my goals for this school year:


  • To continue using interactive notebooks in my classroom.  I have used them for the past 2.5 years, and they have provided students with success at all levels.  Honors Pre-calculus students can use them for reference next year in calculus, and Calculus students can revisit the art of organization with note-taking resources as they make their way to college.  Maybe they will take college calculus and use it!
  • I have created not only a play table in my classroom, but a whole play and puzzle area in the back corner of my room; that part of the goal is finished.  I now would like to instill in my students the desire to “play with math” by using pattern and number sense exploration through tactile play and number puzzles.  I want them to see math as fun and magical.
  • I started spiraling homework in the beginning of last year, but it dropped off quickly as I went into survival mode to stay well enough to finish the first semester.  This year I am going to do this again as well as lagging homework.  I was not able to go to Henri Picciotto’s session on lagging homework at TMC17, but I have read the archives of TMC17, and love the benefits to it that he outlined.  I definitely can see how lagging content in the the assignments a student does at home is much more meaningful and productive.  I do not believe in “no homework”, but I do know that my homework assignment habits needed a huge overhaul; just looks like just the right fit.
  • To help our new math teachers in the building as much as possible by providing good professional resources and advice from my experiences both successful or not.  I have been assigned one of them specifically to mentor, and she is a new teacher this year.  She has great energy that I want to foster and enhance with the professional resources and networks I am a part of.  Outside professional organizations have kept me in this profession through the good times and bad.  Even when I went astray from them, they were there for me when I was ready to re-fuel.
  •  To become much more active in MTBOS this year with sharing materials, resources, and fun chats with my fellow mathies across the country.  I want to keep up with regular blogging and #teach180.   I am hoping to join some of my North Carolina peeps for their professional development activities too.  I am hoping we have another Southern MTBOS tweet-up again this October as last year was a lot of fun, and I have a great idea/location OSin mind with another possible mathematical journey beyond that oneJ
  • To get as many colleagues of mine as possible on Twitter and in the MTBOS!
  •  Balance…  Balance, balance, balance.  If my former principal could hear this now – he instilled the importance of this into me, but I only truly realized it after I left.  The past 5 or so years, I loaded my working life with a full-time teaching job and almost full-time tutoring business.  No more of that for me – it killed my passions for teaching in the classroom, it wore my body out, and it robbed me of the joys one needs in their personal life to create that needed life-work balance.  I will still tutor a few students each week, but nowhere near what I have done in the past.  Though it helped us re-position financially, that is not needed now, and the personal cost is not worth it.
  • I still managed to read during all the crazy of the past 5 years, but now I have the time to read even more.  On goodreads, I have set my goal at 50 books in 2017, and I would like to meet that goal or get as close to it as possible.  It has been a busy summer, so I did not get as many read as I had hoped, but I am happy that I am maintaining a mixture of personal books and professional books. 
  • Exercise – it is my nemesis.  I would rather do anything else, but I bought a new bicycle last spring and have barely been on it.  I traveled a lot this summer, but now with the routine of the school year upon me, I would like to work into biking in 3-4 days a week.  

6 professional goals is a lot, but most of them are already in progress and need to just be built upon.  All of them are things I am super passionate about, so it is always easier to work towards those goals.  I predict my biggest challenges of those I have listed will be keeping up with the lagging/spiraling homework, and regular exercise, but I am committed to it.   This is the first blog I have posted in a while, and I have also yet to post my TMC17 reflections, but that is next this week!

As with any “first day of the school year eve”, I find myself a little nervous about tomorrow, but I am super excited and happier both professionally and personally than I have been in years. 

Here’s to a new and awesome 2017-2018!!!