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.

flag 1flag 2flag 3flag 4


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 (http://www.doe.virginia.gov/instruction/mathematics/resources/vocab_cards/math_vocab_cards_geom.pdf). 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 (https://mathequalslove.blogspot.com/2014/08/growth-mindset-and-sbg-bulletin-board.html?spref=tw) 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!






















My 26th First Day of School (?!)

I do not remember all of my first days of school, but from pre-school upwards, anticipating the first day of school has always brought feelings of excitement, nervousness, and regret for the end of my summer. For the past 8 years, I have also spent (too much) time planning what I can do on that first day of school to start the year off on just the right note. As I see it, activities on the first day of school could be split into 4 categories: getting to know each other, setting academic expectations, setting behavioral expectations, and getting into the math. When my first day lessons needed to fit into only about 40 minutes, I mostly focused on getting to know each other and setting behavioral expectations, but now that I’ve got up to 90 minutes, I’ve worked on how I can incorporate more math on that first day.

At this point, I’m not sure how all of these pieces will come together yet, but here are some activities that I may include on the first day of school this year.

  1. “About Me” Equations – This activity gives students a little bit of algebra review while also letting them get to know me a little bit. Its also helpful as a glimpse into students’ mathematical background on the first day. (I have done this for several years now and don’t remember where I got this idea.)
  2. Name Tents from Sara VanDerWerf – I’ll have them write their name on one side and then an “about me” equation on the other.
  3. Classroom Expectations – My classroom expectations are that they will be responsible, be respectful and be prepared. In the past, I have done a variety of combinations of individual, partner, small group, and class brainstorming to answer the question “What does it look like to be responsible/respectful/prepared?” I make a compiled list from all of my classes that I post in my classroom. I’m still considering what that brainstorming time will look like for this year (and will also most likely depend on my class sizes).
  4. Our Geometry team has made the decision to start the year off with and use constructions more consistently throughout the year as a teaching tool. I’m thinking on the first day of school that I want them just to get comfortable with the physical act of using a compass. After they have played for a little bit with the compass, I’m going to give them the choice of creating a design of their own choosing or writing their name with only a compass (I haven’t gotten to try this idea out yet, so I’m not sure if that will really work).
  5. I’ve also used these visualization exercises in the past and they do definitely get students thinking geometrically, but for some, the frustration level was a little bit too high. I may use these on the first day of my Geometry Lab (a support class for students who are enrolled in one of my regular Geometry sections), which is smaller and enables me to give more individual/small group attention.
  6. My curiosity was piqued on the Geometry MTBoS forum about first day plans by David Griswold’s description of an activity that leads to writing a definition of a sandwich. I’m still thinking about how I may want to incorporate this.

Obviously this list is a bit too extensive at this point, but I would much rather need to pare it down either as I continue to plan or in the moment rather than be under planned for the first day.


I am continuing to very slowly jump onto the blogging train and an upcoming school year is always a good way to try to get myself into new habits. Over the past several years, I have thought a lot about the ways that schools and districts do corporate professional development and contrasting that against what I seek as an individual for professional development. I have found the MTBoS to be a great resource for my individual needs. I tend to pop in and out around the edges, but have been hesitant to dive in. The recent conversations about #MTBoS versus #iteachmath and #PushSend have been encouraging to me to just put my voice out there and even if no one reads it that the process of reflection for yourself can create the value.

Professional Development Goals:

  1. Actually read the books that are on my bookshelf, including 5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Discussions, Good Questions: Great Ways to Differentiate Mathematics Instruction, and How Children Succeed.
  2. Participate in whatever form #geomchat ends up taking. I already posted once in the forum and was excited to read others ideas for the first week of school!
  3. As Geometry team lead, encourage my fellow Geometry teachers to expand their own thinking whether that is through books, Twitter, blogs, etc.

Classroom Teaching Goals:

  1. The AVID conference this summer really encouraged me to think about notes differently. Previously, I would have classified notes as something almost to be avoided, I think largely because giving notes just felt like I was failing to provide students with a more meaningful learning experience. After AVID, my perspective is more that notes are a necessary resource for students, but where my feelings of failure come in is that notes should not generally be the way that students are coming in contact with new material. My goal is to change some of my own perceptions about note-taking, specifically focusing on 1) the timing of the notes, both in terms of length and relationship to new content and 2) help students to know how to use notes as more of a learning resource rather than something that we write down and then lose.
  2. I would like to improve my parent communication. I genuinely do not mind communicating with parents, but I do dislike talking on the phone. I am still thinking about how I can open up those lines of communication without sticking myself with 10 phone calls every night.
  3. The way that I did test corrections last year seemed to discourage students rather than encourage. I want students to learn from their mistakes and truly consider how to become a more active learner, rather than checking a box off for a grade. I have some ideas, but will certainly be thinking about this and discussing this with my Geometry team in the next couple of weeks. (Or maybe on the #geomchat forum?)

I have found that these two areas come together on the MTBoS, both in encouraging me to consider the bigger picture ideas that make up our thoughts as teachers, but also the nitty-gritty details that make up our daily lessons. I look forward to seeing how I can continue to be part of the MTBoS.