Category Archives: Uncategorized

Reflections on Curriculum Implementation, Week 11

I have written before about the curriculum my district is implementing this year, and I have a bit of time to add another update to process my ongoing thoughts today. First, we have had an AWESOME couple of weeks in class. We had a week-long break 2 weeks ago and since then I’m really starting to see the teamwork come together in class. I was actually pretty blown away the day we returned from our break – normally when kids take even a couple of days off school, they forget everything they know about how a classroom is supposed to run, and you have to spend a day reminding them how to be students again. I didn’t have to do this after they had 9 straight days off from school. Yes, I was prepared to have to do it, so we went over reminders at the beginning of class and I was watching for off-task and unproductive behaviors, but it wasn’t much of an issue that day. Weird, right?

This week we had our 6th day of training from CPM and a number of things became clear to me during the course of that day through conversations with others. First, a fellow teacher pointed out that she has noticed her kids are learning to take care of details on their own and not need as much hand-holding in class. Things like putting their names on their papers, labeling papers with the lesson number, grabbing materials and homework worksheets, cleaning up at the end of class – these things are just happening without me having to remind them anymore. What a difference! I have seniors who have more trouble remembering to put their names on their papers than my freshmen do. The kids are getting more self-sufficient and learning how to not need to rely on the teacher for every aspect of the school day. This is evident during lessons as well – I am answering fewer logistical questions during class, they are reading the directions more closely, and they are learning to rely on each other before asking me. Ultimately, I believe that one of my roles as a teacher is to “teach myself out of a job”, as it were – to teach kids how to develop skills on their own without needing to rely on me, because they won’t have someone guiding them through adulthood. They are so much more prepared for this after 11 weeks of this year than any students in my prior years of teaching.

To clarify, I still help them. I still walk around the room and make sure that understanding and comprehension are happening. The difference right now is that I can focus on mathematical understanding and not clarifying details that were given in the instructions. Continue reading


Automated Emails With Google Script

I spent the summer interning at a tech company for my masters program, and my job was to learn and use Javascript, HTML, CSS, and some Python to redesign an internal website. I was also chatting with a friend of mine who interned at the same company, and he mentioned that if you have contact info for a lot of people stored in a Google Spreadsheet, it’s possible to write a script to automatically send customized emails to each person.

Parent emails, everyone. Quickly email the parents of everyone who is failing a class, email all Algebra 1 parents with the parent tips of the week provided by the new curriculum we are using… Easy mass parent emails. Continue reading

Classroom Management

I struggle with classroom management. My preferred method of “classroom management” is to get the kids to do what I ask because they like me. This doesn’t work for some kids who either don’t like me or don’t care enough.

This summer I discovered (probably through Pinterest or something). Some guy named Michael Linsin runs the site. I started reading blog posts, looking for stuff that would work at the high school level and trying to avoid paying the $7 for the ebook that describes his high school plan. I’m not a huge fan of his writing style (dude, each sentence does NOT need to be its own paragraph), but his advice appears sound.

A lot of what he says is similar to what you find in the Harry Wong book, but less…I don’t know…condescending? Linsin also emphasizes clear, consistent expectations, which is a reminder I need, but I found his specific advice about specific situations to be helpful. This is the advantage of running a blog over publishing a book – he can write bite-size chunks about specific things and do this as often as he likes.

I read a bunch of posts that were interesting and pretty helpful, then I found two posts about talking to parents. I don’t like talking to parents. I procrastinate then tell myself that I’ve waited too long so there’s no point in calling them now. The posts I read were and “How to Talk to Parents About Their Misbehaving Child” and “How to Talk to Parents Who Just Don’t Care” (the somewhat offensive title is misleading – he handles the topic very well). Specifically, what caught my eye was this advice:

  1. Tell the parent what happened.
  2. Tell the parent what you did about it.
  3. Say, “I thought you’d want to know.”
  4. End the conversation.

Linsin argues that this structure removes the implication that you’re blaming the parent or asking them to do something about the issue, which is what causes them to get defensive and angry. You’ve already handled the issue so all you’re doing is informing them. I liked this because I suck at phone calls, so having a plan like this is really helpful for me.

At some point I decided that since this advice, that I had gotten for free, was so helpful then maybe it was worth paying $7 for the high school plan. Heck, it was worth paying $7 just for the strategy about talking to parents.

The high school plan is helpful. It gets a little sales-pitchy and there were a couple things that I didn’t agree with so I’m adjusting to suit my preferences, but it’s good. After today, I’m sold.

At one point, Linsin specifies that you should teach students what your consequences look like, including telling them what the “conversation after class” will look like. He says to tell the kids what you’ll say in that conversation: You broke these rules, you lost this many points, goodbye. The point here is to tell the kids they won’t have to sit through a lecture from you or an attempt at a guilt trip or anything else. This is the consequence, have a good day. I like this.

So I told the kids today, “If you continue to break a rule, I’ll ask you to stay after class for a few minutes to talk to me. During that conversation, I’ll say ‘These are the rules you broke, you lost this many points, bye.’ That’s it.”

As I say this, I’m watching them and gauging reactions. Plenty of kids were still pretty blank, but the ones who were reacting were nodding. Nodding that says, “Ok cool.” Like, this kind of nodding:


I get it. They like knowing what to expect. They like knowing that if they break a rule, I’m not going to lecture them, yell at them, guilt-trip them, ask them how they’re going to make sure this never happens again, tell them how disappointed I am…or whatever. I’m sold. Clear expectations, let them know what I want and what will happen when I don’t get what I want – got it.

I think I will still struggle to be consistent. It’s hard for me not to take it personally and get frustrated when misbehavior continues. It’s going to be something I have to remind myself about daily. But it’s something I need to work on, so this is a good time to work on it.

Second Semester Reflections

Some explanation that’s not really important so you can skip it if you want…

Because we start school so early in my state, we finish our first semester and have end-of-semester final exams before winter break. When we return to school after the break to a new semester, and since we do our grading on a semester basis, the kids have a brand new start with a fresh grading period. Since I teach freshmen, who have never experienced the consequences of failing a class that is required for graduation. Many of them have failed classes in the past and received no consequences (as we rarely retain students in grades K-8 for failing classes) so they can have a hard time adjusting to this huge change in expectations.

This means I have an advantage right now – nearly 30% of my Algebra 1 kids have seen Fs on report cards during the break and are starting to realize that it means something. Something bad. (Some of them won’t actually have this realization until next year when they might end up back in Algebra 1 for the second time. A few will take even longer.) So when I was planning for this week, I decided to spend the first day back (yesterday) having them reflect on last semester.

I started with a reflection sheet that I found as a free download on TPT and customized it for myself: second-semester-reflection-sheet. Yesterday I had the students fill it out, trying to encourage them to be specific about what they were going to do this semester to be more successful and about how I can help.

Man, this was awesome. I can’t believe how good a job these kids did reflecting on their semester, what they did well, what they could have done better, what they should do this semester to change things, what I can do to help them. The kids were honest with themselves and with me. Many of them indicated that they needed to do more and I was doing everything I needed to. The ones who did have suggestions for me actually had productive things to say, not just “don’t give homework” or anything like that. Reading through these (and organizing the responses in a spreadsheet because I’m a huge nerd) has given me a lot of food for thought.

The actual point of this blog post…

I’ve been struggling with one of my classes all year. They’re very chatty and I try to allow them to use that to learn. We get off-topic more in that class because they’re so chatty with each other and with me, and because as soon as I allow them to talk even for a moment, it takes ages to get them all to refocus. (I know some would argue that I shouldn’t allow them to talk at all, but that’s not my style.) So I know that I need to try some different things with this particular class.

It was interesting to read their reflection sheets because they were so different from my other two classes. The kids in this class focused a lot on accountability. They wanted me to check in with them more during class to check their understanding, to remind them to come to tutoring, to hold them accountable for actually coming to tutoring, to let them know when they’re off-task, and to push them to understand instead of giving up. Cool. Great ideas, but really hard to implement in a class of 30, often with a lecture-style format.

So I’ve spent some time today brainstorming ways that I can change the structure of the class to work better for this group.

Small groups would be good. I can’t check in with 30 students individually, but I could check in with 7 or 8 groups. I have a bunch of really highly-performing kids in this class who could help their classmates with the material if they work in small groups. I like the idea of having them hold each other accountable – everyone in the group gets the concept, or you’re not done.

So then how do we have time to work in groups like this? I spend so much time on notes that we usually don’t have time to work through problems or even do that much practice. It’s why I assign homework, even though I realize that if they can’t do the homework, there’s no point in giving it. Maybe I could do a pseudo-flipped-classroom? I don’t feel comfortable assigning videos to be watched at home (although maybe we could get to that point later) because not all of my students have access at home. But maybe they could watch videos on devices for the first 5-10 minutes of class? If someone doesn’t have a device, the group could watch the video together. How do I have them take notes so they can remember what they learned? Should I provide some structure to the notes or just let them do it? Should a group member be designated to take notes for the group? Then I could give an in-depth problem or rich task after the video, or just assign some practice with a chance to check in with everyone as they work.

I have a bunch of students in this class who really struggle with motivation. They are very social and don’t seem to care much about their grades. (The beginning of basketball season helped that a little bit, as a bunch of them are on the basketball team.) How can I make sure that everyone is held accountable for their own work, while also getting the support they need from the group?

I’m ready to make some huge changes to the way that I normally structure my classes, I just don’t know how to do it. The only math teaching I ever experienced was direct-instruction, I-do-we-do-you-do, traditional, so I don’t even have a model in my head for what I could do differently.

I told the kids some of what I was thinking about today, and asked them to give me suggestions too. I told them that whatever they want to try, we can always try for a day and see how it goes. They seemed open to the kinds of things I suggested, although it’s possible they just really liked being told that they could tell me how they want me to run their class. I like being honest with them about what I’m thinking, why I do the things I do in class, and what I’m struggling with – the questions I still have. They respond well and we build a good relationship. Now I need to figure out what to try.

Anyone have suggestions for ways I can answer the questions above?

What a Crazy Semester!

Well, it’s late in the evening on New Year’s Day, and I was supposed to be traveling to another state to visit family, but we had to cancel our trip due to weather. This is the first time in a while that I’ve had the time/inclination to write a blog post. Actually, I just looked at the date of my last post and it was during the first week of school. So yes, it’s been a while.

This semester has been insane. (And no, it’s not going to get better for a while.) I started my masters program in May, so I was taking a graduate course all semester. I spent most of the semester feeling like I was behind on my grading, which was usually followed by a day of realizing I wasn’t that far behind because my student aide is awesome, and then another 3 weeks feeling behind again. Also, I hate grading and I infinitely prefer planning, and I’m a professional procrastinator. My poor students. They were very understanding though.

While we’re on the subject of my students, my freshmen are amazing. Now sure, not every single one of them has a fantastic attitude every moment of every day, but in general, as a whole, they are wonderful kids. They really do have great attitudes most of the time. They will do pretty much whatever I ask them to, without much arguing or complaining. They’re a really nice group of kids – they’re nice to me and to each other. I teach because I love my students, but this year the students have made themselves really easy to love. Did they all pass first semester? No. Are they all stellar students? No, although I will say that their academic skills are stronger than I’ve ever seen from a class of incoming freshmen. But they’re great kids. I don’t go back to school for a week and I’m already looking forward to seeing them again.

We started learning about adding, subtracting, and multiplying polynomials at the end of the semester, and I told them I LOVE polynomials. Most of them laughed and rolled their eyes, but someone said, “Didn’t you say that about graphing?” I said, “Yeah, I love graphing too. Oh, and solving systems. And function notation. And writing functions. And next semester we’re going to do factoring and we’re going to solve quadratics, and I love factoring and quadratics.” (As I say this, my voice gets gradually higher and more enthusiastic.) At this point they’re pretty much all giving me that Miss-is-crazy-and-we’re-pretty-sure-she’s-torturing-us-but-it’s-kind-of-funny-and-we-like-laughing-at-her sort of look. So I grinned at them and said, “Do you see why I teach Algebra 1?” Now they’re actually laughing.

Speaking of polynomials, in two of my classes when I explained that we were going to add, subtract, and multiply polynomials, someone asked, “Are we going to learn to divide polynomials?” So cool, because I got to explain that we sort-of divide polynomials in January when we do factoring, and then we learn how to actually divide higher-degree polynomials in Algebra 2. This is fun because now I can talk about that question when we learn about factoring in a week or two.

Confession time: I was having a pretty rough day a couple of weeks ago, and yelled at one of my classes. I told them I was going to put them into groups so they could play a review game for their final exam, and they started whining. I was sick, it was the end of the day, and I was exhausted. I threatened them that if they didn’t want to work in the groups I assigned, then the whole class could spend the rest of the period working silently on their study guides. I ran my random group generator and immediately heard at least 4 different kids complain about their group. I explained (ahem…loudly) that I don’t care how they feel about who is in their group and they have to learn to deal with it. I turned back to the board to check that I was ok with their groups, determined I was, and turned back around to tell them to get together with their groups. One poor kid who was right in front of me said, “I can’t-” then saw the look on my face and didn’t get any further into that sentence. Unfortunately for him and the rest of the class, I’d had it. I explained to them (again, rather loudly) that once again I don’t care how you feel about the people I pair you up with. In fact, that’s why I do it! You have to learn how to work with people you don’t like in high school because it WILL be a part of your life after high school. And if you can’t, then you are likely to lose your job. I said a few other things as well that I don’t really recall now, instructed them to work silently for the remainder of the class period, and sat down at my desk in a huff.

Well, about half an hour went by and after I finished being furious I started to feel guilty. (It only takes a few minutes.) They did work in silence for the rest of the class, which was a testament to how angry I was because this particular class usually can’t make it 30 seconds without talking, much less 30 minutes. A few minutes before the bell rang, I stood up and asked for their attention. I told them I knew I shouldn’t have yelled at them, and I was sorry. However, I believe that the things I said were still valid, and that they needed to hear them…just maybe not quite at that volume. (They smiled at that.) I explained, in a much more reasonable tone of voice, that as an adult you do not get to choose the people you work with or for. You do have to learn to work with people you don’t like. I gave the example that one of the people that has been the most difficult for me to work with is someone that actually worked for me. I couldn’t fire her because she was a great employee, even though I personally couldn’t stand to hold a conversation with her…which is also a kind of decision you have to be able to make as an adult. I reminded them that my goal this year is not just to teach them algebra but to teach them skills they will need to be successful after high school, and working with people you don’t like is one of them. So again, I’m sorry that I got angry and yelled, but I’m not sorry for what I said.

The interesting thing is how they responded to this. First, they seemed to have no trouble accepting my apology (judging by the looks on their faces and the fact that they didn’t seem to hate me when they came in the next day). But they also agreed with me that they needed to hear my point. The class nodded when I said that and a couple of students even stayed after to tell me they agreed with me.

I love how quick teenagers are to forgive and forget when you own up to your mistake and apologize. I especially love this because it’s not like I’m going to stop making mistakes.

It’s been a crazy semester. Most of the days have been really good but very busy. In my “free time” I’ve been reading papers and writing papers. The first day all semester that I made a point to reserve for myself and not do any work was Veteran’s Day in November. It was much-needed too, let me tell you. I was starting to get a little snippy in class. I’ve spent much of the semester frustrated about some other things happening at school that I’m not going to post on a public forum, but suffice it to say there was an added level of stress from other causes as well.

But my kids are awesome. I have not managed to make it through a single day without laughing all semester. I’ve had some really great parent meetings where I got to share positive information about students. During the last few weeks of the semester, one of my classes turned around from being my quietest, least-engaged class to being my most focused and productive class. Almost all of my students are taking great notes and using their notebooks (when I remind them) to find answers. They didn’t panic about their final exam and actually did pretty well, compared to past years. We’ve figured out some good strategies for class – they’ve figured out my teaching style and are responding to it and I’m figuring out how to manage the extreme chattiness of the one class and the overwhelming size of another class. I’m still working on convincing them to come to tutoring next semester. It’s very likely that I’ll see increased attendance at tutoring now that a bunch of them have failed a semester and might realize they need to not do that again. (Fingers crossed, anyway…)

My masters program isn’t supposed to end for another two years so next semester will be just as busy. I’m greatly enjoying winter break, as it’s the only time I don’t have work of either form for the entire year. Here’s to a restful week before I go back to school, and a productive semester for both me and my students.

“I Like This, Miss!”

Something interesting has happened while my Algebra 1 classes have been working on Noah’s Ark and Barfing Monsters.

One student stayed after class on Tuesday to continue working on the Noah’s Ark problem during lunch. When he left the room (because I told him he couldn’t stay for the whole lunch period because he does actually need to eat), I looked at my colleagues who joined me for lunch and said, “Did you see that?! He wanted to stay so he could keep working on that problem!”

Yesterday, this student stayed a couple minutes after school so he could check in with me on his progress. Since he had to catch the bus, I finally told him that I wanted him to take a break from it last night and look at it again today. He’s so close, in fact he has work on his paper that looks correct but doesn’t match what he was telling me. I think he got confused because he was trying to rush through his explanation.

Yesterday after class, however, the most interesting thing happened. We’d just spent the period working on Noah’s Ark and then Barfing Monsters, and he came up to me at the end of class. He was holding his Noah’s Ark worksheet and gestured toward the board (which was still displaying a slide from Barfing Monsters) and said, “Are we going to do problems like this all year?” I said, “Not every day, but I’m hoping we can do a lot of these kinds of problems.” He nodded, and said, “Even if we don’t, can you still give me problems like this all year? I want to do them!”

Seriously. That happened. In my classroom. I’m still kind of in shock.

Obviously I said yes, so now I need to find some cool problems that I can give him to work on when he asks again. I’d love suggestions!

This kid needs to play with my Tiling Turtles. He would love those.

Explanations In Algebra 1

A couple of interesting things happened today to set up one of my expectations for my Algebra 1 classes.

First, our bell work question today was a Which One Doesn’t Belong? image. I showed the image and instructed them to write which one they felt didn’t belong and explain WHY their choice doesn’t belong. I gave them a sentence frame for this: Your answer should look something like “The _____ shape doesn’t belong because it is the only one that _____.” Then I had them vote using Plickers. We had a discussion about the two shapes that everyone voted for, and then I asked if they could come up with reasons why the other two don’t belong as well. They did. Then I tried to move on to the next part of the lesson.

Well, they didn’t like that. They demanded to know which one was the right answer. I shrugged and said, “Well, didn’t we just come up with reasons for all of them?” and then ignored them while they yelled out indignant questions. We’ll do more WODB questions (about 1 per week until I get bored) so they’ll get used to them. (In fact, I’m betting that next week I’m going to have one kid who tries to outsmart me by smugly telling me that none of them belong. I always tell them that they’re welcome to write that on their bell work, but then they have to write an explanation for each one.)

Goal: Introduce the idea that there isn’t always just one right answer. √

Goal: Introduce the idea that the explanation is more important than the right answer. √

While I was ignoring their indignant questions, I instructed them to get together with a new group of people today (randomly assigned) to continue working on Noah’s Ark.

I’ve used Noah’s Ark during the first week of school before, and I’m using it again this year. I just re-read the blog post from last year where I talked about how it went, and am frankly a little surprised at how positive I was about it last year. (Last year was not a good year for me in a lot of ways, so it’s possible that I’m just surprised I was able to write anything that was positive. Of course, when I wrote that post, it was before I discovered just how bad it would get.)

It’s going better this year. I’m excited and impressed. Or I would be if I wasn’t so tired right now.

So all 3 sections of Algebra 1 started Noah’s Ark on Monday. Each day this week, I’ve been running out of time, so I’ve only been able to give the kids about 5-10 minutes a day to work on it. I know this isn’t enough time, and the first day in particular I told them I didn’t expect them to finish. (Actually I told them that if they did get an answer before the end of class, it was probably wrong.) So they’ve now worked on it for like 5-10 minutes a day for three days.

A couple of kids have the right answer and now have permission to spend the work time helping other students (while under strict orders to not tell anyone what the answer is). A couple of kids have the right answer but I’m not sure how they got it, so they’re technically not done yet. (And they don’t know they have the right answer because I haven’t told them.)

I’m impressed at how well they’re doing with this considering how short their time is each day. They’re making little bits of progress and it’s adding up. I think I’m going to bring this up when I start assigning homework next week and tell them that working on something like this for a short time but often is clearly paying off, and that’s basically how I assign homework – nearly every day, but not very much. I’m hoping this will help to put the homework load in perspective.

Today we had an interesting conversation in one of my classes. It went something like this:

Student: “Miss, do you know the answer?”

Me: “Nope.”

A few students: “WHAT?! How can you give us a problem that you don’t know the answer to?!”

Me: “I just figure that anyone who can give me an explanation that I can’t poke any holes in must have the right answer.”

Another student: “So, wait…if we can give a good explanation and you can’t find anything wrong with it, that means we’re right?”

Me: “Yep.”

[This all repeats a few more times, verbatim, as the information gradually spreads through all 30 kids.]

Some other student, with a very shrewd sort of look on his face: “So does that mean you care more about the explanation than the right answer?”

Me: “Yep.”

Oh snap. Did you see that? On Day 3 of the semester, we’ve established that I care more about the explanation than whether students have the right answer. And I didn’t have to say it.

Goal: Reinforce the idea that the explanation is more important than the right answer. √


I’m honestly not sure I could have come up with a better way to make this point.

The other really cool thing is what happened about 15 minutes later.

So I let them work for about 10 minutes and then I stopped them because we needed to move on to Sam Shah‘s Barfing Monsters (adjusted for Algebra 1 by Elizabeth Statmore and adjusted further by my roommate who is not on Twitter in spite of my nagging).

Barfing Monsters Alg1 Day 1

Barfing Monsters Alg 1 Day 2

Barfing Monsters Alg 1 Day 3

[Note to self: for next year, the Day 1 patterns need to be easier. I need a lower entry point for my students’ needs.]

We talked through the setup and worked through Case File #1 together, then I instructed them to get as many case files done in the remaining 10 minutes of class as they could.

Here’s the hilarious/awesome part: one of the kids, again with this very suspicious/shrewd look on his face, stops me while they’re working to ask, “Do these ones have a right answer?” I decided to be nice to them this time and said, “When it asks you to make a prediction for what the monster is going to throw up, based on what they just ingested, yes, there is a right answer for that part. But there could be more than one explanation for why that’s the right answer.” He nodded and got back to work.

Goal: Reinforce the idea that the explanation is important. √