March #MTBoSBlog18

I am new enough to blogging that being inspired to write each week feels overwhelming. I was not able to keep up with the Sunday Funday challenges back in August and September, but I am determined to keep up with the once a month #MTBoSBlog18 challenge. I even have it in my Google calendar to help me to remember to brainstorm ahead of time. I was feeling a little bit uninspired about this month’s post, but nonetheless, I was able to come up a few highlights from my most recent Geometry unit on right triangles.

Our Geometry team had made the decision this year to not teach the distance formula, but only to teach it as an extension of the Pythagorean Theorem on the coordinate grid. We reviewed the Pythagorean Theorem within the first month of school, but as we entered our unit focusing on right triangles, I wanted an activity to practice on a graph once again. I love soccer and many of my students love soccer, so I was inspired by this tweet: Untitled

I  wasn’t able to recreate this in my classroom, but did the best I could on paper. I had fun incorporating current soccer players into my soccer story. I follow US women’s soccer more closely and my husband helped me out with some of the Premier League players. I used this with my Geometry Lab students and this was a great start to build up some confidence in a unit that can be very difficult.

The main component of our right triangle unit is introducting students to trigonometric ratios. Entering into planning for this topic this year, I was wondering if I typically make the jump too quickly from identifying the different ratios to solving for side lengths and angles. I wasn’t sure what else to do, but I ended up on this post from Pam Wilson. The post is from 2013, so I think I may have been in an #MTBoS rabbit hole. Thank you to whoever had linked me there. I had just recently cut out a whole bunch of little cards for another activity, so I decided to turn her work into a Desmos card sort. I was really pleased with how quickly my students were able to pick up on the differences between sin, cos, and tan.

The final challenge in our right triangle unit is setting up word problems with the angle of elevation and angle of depression. By this point, I was really pleased with how well my students were doing with solving problems with trig ratios, but I knew that setting up the pictures was going to be a challenge. To try to isolate the skills, I set up this 2 part worksheet. Before they started, they folded it on the vertical line so that they were only looking at part 1. In part 1, their goal was just to draw the picture and since there weren’t any numbers, they weren’t trying to jump ahead. We used 2 colors to identify the angle and side length that would be given in part 2. We marked with color on the blank and in the picture. Once we got to part 2, they used their color coding to quickly identify where the values belonged in their pictures and then went about solving the problem. Drawing the pictures was still a challenge for sure, but this did help to ease the difficulty a bit. I may try this structure again with other types of word problems as well.


February #MTBoSBlog18

My Honors Geometry textbook includes a significant number of always, sometimes, and never questions. I like these questions because I think that they inspire good discussion and deeper thinking into a variety of ideas, but by this point in the year, my students are starting to get tired of them. In thinking about ways to structure these discussions and change it up a little bit, I came up with this activity.

I have 3 corners of my classroom labeled with always, sometimes, and never. Rather than just having students go to the corner that represents their answer, I pass out playing cards before each round. If they have a face card, they are a “decoy” and they need to go to the corner that represents what they think is not the answer. If a student gets a number card, they just go to the corner with their answer. The purpose of the decoys is to alleviate the “Oh, Sarah is always right, so I’ll just go where she goes.”

Once students are in place, I give each corner the chance to give their argument. Any students who are persuaded by an argument can move. The other thing that is interesting about having the decoys is that they are forced to try to think about an argument that might make the wrong answer seem correct. After all arguments have been given, I ask the face cards to show themselves. Hopefully the decoys are the only ones remaining in the incorrect corners.

I did this activity this week with both regular and Honors level Geometry students using this set of quadrilateral questions from Lisa Bejarano (thank you!). If you would like to try always, sometimes, never questions, is a great resource.

January #MTBoSBlog18

I tried something new yesterday. We had a snow day, on the day immediately preceding my Honors Geometry midterm exam. I knew that some of my students would be trying to use this “extra” time to brush up on things and I was brainstorming ways that I could support them. I decided to offer two Instagram Live study sessions, each for an hour. I had very low expectations, thinking that maybe 5 students (out of around 60) might join me. The school that I used to teach at did “online days” in cases of inclement weather and I had offered Google Hangout sessions (just chat), which I think only one student ever took advantage of. It felt very low risk. Worst comes to worst, I was just going to video myself working on my computer.

My first session I had scheduled for 11:00-12:00, notifying students via Google Classroom and Remind. Pretty immediately, I had 5-10 students with me. If you are new to Instagram Live, it basically just allows you to send a live video to your followers (in this case, I made a new non-personal Instagram account) and throughout the video, viewers are able to comment. For the most part, students used the comment feature to give me problem numbers that they wanted to discuss, but they were also able to add follow-up questions if I hadn’t answered their question. During my first video, I had my phone on a stand using the front camera. I’m not much of one for selfies. If I was, I might have remembered that the front camera reverses the image, which is a problem, if you are, for example, writing in a notebook. I wasn’t working out long problems, mostly just reminding students of concepts and formulas, so it didn’t feel like a huge deal, at least to me. At the end of the session, Instagram told me that my video had 19 viewers. I was pretty pleased.

I also offered a second session from 3:00-4:00. I did try to remedy the camera issue by propping my phone on top of 2 small boxes, but then I needed to hold it in position. During this session, all students could see was about a quarter of a sheet of notebook paper. More boxes would have been better. I did have fewer students during this session, but also some repeats.  By the end of the session, there had been 12 viewers.

One of my reflections on these two sessions is how different it felt for me to have students seeing my face and notebook versus just my notebook. During the first session, when I could see my own face, I felt much more confident that I was engaging and explaining things in the way that made sense. During the second session, when I could only see my notebook, I didn’t feel as connected to my explanation. Obviously, if we were in person, there would be body language, etc. that I would be gauging as I worked with a group of students, but in both of these cases, the only interaction was via the comments. I’m not sure if there was some kind of “placebo” effect of viewing my own face on the screen and reading my own body language, which then affected how I perceived my students to be feeling.

While it was an interesting experience and helpful given the circumstances, in some ways it also goes against part of my teaching philosophy. I was the presenter and students were only there to ask questions. Students were able to just be passive learners and receive the information rather than truly interacting with it. Earlier this month, my district’s math coordinator sent out the article “Never Say Anything a Kid Can Say,” which I was familiar with, but is nonetheless a good reminder. Students’ work yesterday was to review for a midterm and for most students, they could have said a significant percentage of what I said, but the difficulty was in putting together the pieces. This form of interaction made me do a lot of the work that my students are already capable of doing.

I’m still thinking about the balance of the personal (my face) versus the function (my notebook) and other circumstances where this form of student/teacher interaction might be helpful and/or appropriate. Has anyone else ever used Instagram Live?

When a test isn’t so great

What to do when a test isn’t so great? In the most ideal teacher world, it would never happen, perhaps because you are just that good and are able to push and challenge your students exactly all the right amount so that they can each perform to the best of their abilities on your test. Also, we theoretically as teachers should have indicators of how things are going, like the formative assessment strategies that we should be utilizing each day. But what happens when the formative assessment seems okay, not great, but okay, and that test just really needs to happen before Winter Break? It seemed like it was all going work out. Students worked hard on the review, some stayed after school to get extra help, etc. Then you grade the test and you realize that no, you rushed things and maybe that new strategy that you were trying maybe wasn’t the best for this particular group of students. What do you do?

The issues that I want to balance are: needing to reteach content while not taking up too much time and not wanting to drastically impact their grades close to the end of the semester. What is the best method to include some elements of re-teaching, having an additional grade represent what they know now, and take a reasonable amount of class time? Additionally, how does all of these thoughts apply to the students who did do very well?

Here are some options that I have considered:

  • Hand each student back their test. Let them use their notes and/or classmates to fix their errors. Move into heterogeneous groups for a group re-test. Their two test grades could be averaged.
    • Pros: This could be completed within one class period. Group work could provide them with the additional support that they need to be successful.
    • Cons: Their grade may simply reflect who they were grouped with rather than any knowledge that they have gained.
  • My typical test retake scenario is that they must complete test corrections before they can retake a test. Students do not tend to take the time to do this and then get frustrated that I will not let them just retake the test. Perhaps taking a class period to do a quick re-teach and then class time to work on test corrections before offering an optional retake could allow the retake to be more accessible to more students.
    • Pros: This option seems to leave the most room for the students to opt in/out.
    • Cons: This requires a higher level of individual motivation than the first option.
  • In combination with a little bit of re-teaching, do some variation on “My Favorite No” by picking out some key errors from the test to have students work on either individually or as a group. This error analysis could either be graded or I could follow it up with a short re-quiz.
    • Pros: Whereas test corrections may leave students floundering with their own mistakes, they may have a different viewpoint if they are looking at someone else’s work.
    • Cons: Is error analysis enough to demonstrate additional content mastery?
  •  Curve the test now and re-teach the content immediately before the unit it is prerequisite to.
    • Pros: Kicking the can down the road makes things easier right now.
    • Cons: I would rather deal with the mistakes while they are fresh(ish) in their minds. While Winter Break is long, March is even further away.

In addition to this list, I also have many things that I am thinking about in how to teach this unit better next year and how this experience affects how I teach these kids throughout the rest of this year. In this space I am just considering what I need to do in the next week to rectify this most immediate issue. I definitely look forward to hearing any ideas or suggestions that anyone may have, while also feeling some trepidation as this is definitely the most vulnerable that I have been in this space.

Holiday Flags

Inspired by this video about Nepal’s flag’s construction being outlined in the Nepalese Constitution, my Honors Geometry teammate and I were tossing around ideas about how this might connect to our Honors Geometry content. We had a day between a unit test and the beginning of Thanksgiving break, which obviously is not a great time to begin new content. We wanted to be festive, but productive and decided to assign a holiday flag project. Students needed to include at least 4 geometric constructions, have a holiday design of their choosing, explain the connection between their design and their holiday, and include a write-up of directions that could be used to duplicate the flag. See here for the rubric that I developed in order to communicate expectations and then grade the flags. There were lots of Christmas trees and snowmen, but there was a nice variety as students considered what was important to them. The last student example shown here was made to show his family’s celebration of the Iranian spring holiday, Nowruz.

Overall, I was very pleased with their work on this project. I gave them about 2 hours of class time, spread over two days, but almost all students used additional time outside of class in order to finish. It was a nice way to wrap-up our study of the basic constructions and have students consider how different constructions could be combined.

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Classroom Tour

This is my second year at this school and I think I’m only one of 3 math teachers (out of 20) to have kept my classroom from last year to this. Several of our math teachers were also moved into “outdoor classrooms” (i.e. trailers) and have been incredibly patient in dealing with a variety of adverse circumstances. That is to say that I do feel very grateful to have this space even though there are things that I would change if the world was at my fingertips. IMG_20170929_152136First up, the beginnings of my Geometry word wall. These posters were made by the Virginia DOE ( I’m still thinking about how to incorporate the cards more into my teaching and review, but for now, its a word wall.


These designs made up of geometric constructions are a project that I have done the past few years and they make great classroom decorations. This is also where I post schedules and reminders. The blue and pink sheets are running point totals for my two geometry support classes. Students earn points as they participate in different games and activities in class.


I first made the teams poster at my previous school. I think it is directly from CPM. I do not do as much teamwork in my current school, but I still like the reminders. Also, for the first time this year, I am experimenting with student folders for two of my classes – in the two blue crates. Organization was a struggle for some students last year and so they can use their folder for in-class storage. I also use their folders to pass back papers, which does save class time.


Regardless of the variety of activities that we may do in class, the front of my classroom is the default focal point. Some things that I have incorporated into the front:

  • Growth mindset posters from Math Equals Love ( I LOVE when students reference these in our discussions!
  • My classroom expectations fall into 2 categories: Be responsible and be respectful. On the first day, students brainstormed individually and with a group about what specific behaviors fall into those 2 categories. I have posted the compiled lists from all of my classes.
  • I also have a velcro Sudoku board that I made. Students add to it before and after class. The teacher who uses my room during my planning said that his kids also like participating. The only downside is that it is easy to mess up (as it currently is).

Some day I’m hoping to branch my blogging beyond the #SundayFunday blogging prompts, but for now, I’m just trying to hold on! I look forward to seeing other people’s classrooms soon!

I love organizing!

In my younger years, I thought that being a “professional organizer” would be a great career. Through my schooling, I had a hard time working on my homework unless my things were all put away. I have definitely become less particular as I have gotten older, but I still love a good organizational system.

Here are some systems that work for me:

  • Student work: I have one basket in my classroom where students turn papers in. I do not accept papers that are handed to me. They must be put in the basket. Depending on the day, I empty the basket either at the end of the block or at the end of the day. Papers then, go straight into my expandable file where they are organized by block. I also keep all of my answer keys in the expandable file. Student work stays until the expandable file until I grade it and then I keep it in file folders per class until I pass it back. (I keep up with my grading pretty well, but struggle to pass back papers in a timely manner).
  • Papers for planning: I keep a folder on my desk for each class. As we go through a unit, I put any originals, notes, etc. into the folder. At the end of the chapter, I empty the folder and move those papers to a section in my filing cabinet. I then reference my filing cabinet as needed when planning in the future, though I usually only use it when I can’t find something in my Google Docs. I do also try to keep any card sorts or any other cut apart paper activities in the appropriate chapter’s hanging folder.
  • Other miscellaneous papers: If it something that I will want to reference in a meeting or at some other point throughout the year (like a calendar, pacing guide, etc.), it goes into a binder that I keep on my desk. If it something that I really should keep, but probably won’t ever look at, it goes into my filing cabinet. I try really hard not to keep paper on my desk.
  • CaptureOrganizing Internet Links: On Twitter this summer, I read about someone who used Google Keep to organize links (I’m sorry, I don’t remember who). My husband and I have used Google Keep in the past to share lists with each other, but I didn’t know about the labeling functionality. I absolutely love it! I have made labels in order to organize the links that I pulled from my Twitter and Feedly over the summer, but I’m sure that I will add to them as the year goes on.
  • Student organization: When cleaning my room at the end of the year, I found 2 different places in my classroom where students had been stashing their work that I told them not to lose. With that in mind and my general frustration with students losing important handouts and notes, I am going to try crates with student folders for the first time. There are students who have functioning organizational systems of their own and I’m not going to force them to fit into my box (literally), but I hope that many of my students can benefit.


I’m in awe of all of the Tupperware that I’ve seen in some posts already and look forward to reading more of your organizational posts!