In an effort to focus better this year, I set myself three goals to work on. One of those is to physically organize all my stuff.

I’m definitely the type who can’t throw anything out and I save all my activities so as not to have to recreate them. That means I have, in no particular order:

  • Activities, in various sizes of envelopes/paperclipped together, or even in boxes
  • Files, labelled by topic and with spare copies in them
  • Binders, poorly kept up at this point, ostensibly with one copy of everything in it (I have…many binders)
  • Books, from resource masters to activity books to teachers editions

And that’s not even touching my computer, which used to be organized but now definitely has a fair number of duplicates. Compounding things is Google Drive (with which I have a mental block–it’s getting comical. I think I’ve finally shared something right only to have my pro-Google colleague email and ask for permission). There are also the activities I’ve read about on blogs that I want to try sometime but rarely do because I just taught that or it isn’t for three months and I don’t remember it in time.

I read through many of the Organization posts and determined I should probably start from scratch.

I can’t bring myself to get rid of the copies but I can move things over (I have an empty file cabinet) and move them back when they are in a state I actually want to deal with. I read about people who use big binders and little unit binders and boxes and more.

Unfortunately, I don’t think unit binders will work for me, as I’m not sure we’re final enough in what we’re using. I like the idea of keeping everything for a given unit in one place though, so I’m considering doing a box for each unit, with both activities and a single copy of each assignment and trying to do the same electronically.

It doesn’t feel like a perfect solution but it sounds a great deal better than what I’m currently doing–now I just need to get it started. (Or, you know, change my mind again.) I have the boxes, I just need to find the time.



I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about my goals for next year. I’m a big planner. I like figuring out how to do things better. I also tend to get carried away and come up with more things than I can possibly do. I can list ten awesome goals, but I doubt I could actually accomplish them all–and maybe even any of them if I really stretch myself too thin.

This past year my schedule sucked. I had to share a room, move rooms for one class and had three completely different preps. My desk was shoved in front of a closet, there was nowhere to put anything, I was just back from a year’s leave. It was transition.

Right now, I’m teaching Freshman Connection, a four week program where students have 90 minutes each of math & reading and 40 minutes of counseling Monday-Thursday and go on a field trip on Friday. They get familiar with the building, free breakfast and lunch, meet some teachers and students. I teach two 90 minute sections and get an hour of prep. We’re supposed to spend a good chunk of time playing critical thinking and computation games, and I’m a fast planner, so I’ve got a lot of time on my hands.

And so I plan…

I want to choose my areas of focus so I can be intentional and when I start to overwhelm myself in my good-idea-spiral, snap out of it.

This year, I have two preps. One is being reworked (our Algebra 1) but we have an awesome team, all of whom I’ve worked with before. I have my own room, with another teacher using it during my first period prep. Plenty of storage space. It’s time to get things together!

So, what’s been rattling around in my head?

  • We’re semi-standards based but a friend at another school was pushing my thinking on how she does it. What I do now is ok but could definitely improve and be clearer. However, we’re getting a new platform next year, (our current one is terrible for SBG) and I don’t know what it will be like. This is partially philosophical and partially logistical.
  • Google Classroom: In the olden days I did a class blog, but Google Classroom is made for that and more. I will be doing this for sure, but how much do I want to try to use it?
  • TI Navigator: I definitely don’t use this to its fullest potential, but 3 of the 4 teachers on my team will be this year. That added brainstorming can really help us take things to the next level. I especially want to use more quick polls (as assessments) and collect documents from the class, as well as use some of the files TI provides.
  • Google Drive: I do not understand Google Drive. I need to learn. I’m not excited about this one, but my NHS officers keep asking why I didn’t share things that I thought I had. Ugh.

Physical Organization

  • Make sure I can a) use all my amazing resources and b) actually only have amazing resources
  • Determine how best to organize resources. They may be found in: Books. Activities, Files, Binders, Blog posts, Dropbox, NCTM, Desmos and more
  • Make some priorities. My coworker calls it a warchest–decide what books/activities/whatever is worth the chest
  • Make it useable and easy to access–How many locations are acceptable?¬†How much does portability matter?
  • Decide on a Philosophy: Is there one copy of everything in the binders? Ok to look in both binders and files? Should activities be stored by topic WITH papers or separate?
  • Start new binders from scratch–move over anything useful from previous binders.
  • Pre-tab and start all binders with a table of contents. Dumb but true, I have binders with dividers and no labels. Why?!
  • Start new file drawers. Basically, I need a semi-clean slate.


  • Set draft prompts about topics and focus on making sure I write. Tell others for accountability. (Ha, hi!)



  • Be more responsive to student data (pick 2 skills, 2 ? exit slip with must & may, track data). One of my coworkers is amazing at this–I’d like to get some tips from him, and I think Navigator can really help with this as well. More about this one later!
  • Do projects. Our class is newly mixed ability and I think projects can give some great opportunities to differentiate, as well as be used for the whole class.
  • Differentiation. What can we do besides having some students get further on a given activity/problem set/whatever?
  • Write tests first. Backwards planning. We’re all on board with this one!
  • Tell them less: discovery and investigation.
  • Unifying themes/essential questions
  • Circulate and be more aware of whats happening in class. I plan well but sometimes I’m guilty of watching the action instead of really knowing what’s happening in my room. I know I can catch more misconceptions and be more available to students–I just need to set up some structure for myself to make sure I’m doing this!


  • Gather & use data more frequently–using the Navigator and other methods. And just circulating!
  • I was asked to be on our Data Team this year and have been talking with the AP about it a bunch. I hope we can make it practical and useful for teachers! So far, we’ve come up with: make a sheet, keep up on data, self assess, make goals (have exemplars–collect, analyze, respond, plan/generate) (move beyond exit slips, ways to collect data). More on this one later too–I’m getting sick of editing my random thoughts ūüėõ
Logistics Stuff:
  • With my new/old room (it was mine before maternity leave) comes figuring everything out. In addition to wanting to start from zero on my files and binders, I need to decide what goes on shelves, in 7 cabinets, small and large file drawers. I have a lot of stuff! And at least two of those cabinets will be for NHS supplies.
  • Determine how to organize student based supplies (whiteboards/dry erase/erasers, markers, scissors, rulers, glue sticks) (spares like pencils & erasers). And, honestly, what those are. I’ve used a set of three drawers for years, and students come get what they need, but a caddy per group could work (although I do lots of partner work–but isn’t sharing with another pair still more convenient?)
  • How to handle student work/extra copies (will using Google classroom mean I need no extra copies? That would be amazing.)
  • Where to put mental math, calculators and other stuff
  • Decorate, posters, number lines! Sarah Hagan has tons of cute posters so I’m hoping I can copy her and be done with it since I’m not a huge decorator.
  • Finish moving everything over–I had my homeroom get almost all of it in the last ten minutes of school (right after I found out) but my desk is still mostly full and although it looks nice I have no clue where anything is!

So obviously I have some narrowing down to do, but I think I’m just about there. Here’s hoping I can keep this up!

Something Based Grading

We changed up our grading structure this year. Our admin wants to move towards standards based grading, so we’re sort of supposed to be transitioning towards it a little bit this year. Sorry for all the qualifiers, but that’s how it actually is.

I’ve read enough blogs on SBG to feel like I have a vague grasp of what it should look like. Choose standards, assess & reassess on those standards, then final grades are based on the scores on those standards. Its definitely a huge change from how I’ve taught and assessed before, but I would be up for the challenge.

Except we have to use Gradebook, and we have to enter grades at least weekly and Gradebook is very much not designed for this sort of thing. Gradebook will give you a max of 9 categories, and those categories are the only way to have any weights to things.

So we have this crazy system where we have nine topics/standards and then all the assignments under that standard are coded under that standard but weighted differently according to their type (so that the whole grade doesn’t come from homework, for example). And if you feel a little fuzzy about what that looks like, my math teacher friend, consider how my freshman feel. Or their parents. Or, actually, me. I’m pretty sure that despite the weighting homework is getting way too much value. Progress reports are nearly unreadeable because the multipliers muck it up.

And about that homework…I do think some kind of practice is really helpful in math class and although I don’t care about how they do it (and have only ever graded homework for completion), they probably care that I give them credit for that. So how do I balance that with not really wanting that credit to count?

I can make some minor changes this semester, but I do get a clean slate 2nd semester. Any ideas to help me out? What are your favorite SBG [lite] resources?

Making an Effort

Oh, hi.

I have so many things I want to say, but its been so long that I’ve said anything at all that I feel like I have to come back with something brilliant. Or at least good. And then I get stuck picking what to talk about and so I say…nothing.

Which is silly. So, hi. I’m teaching Algebra 1 to students a few grade levels below this year, which means I haven’t actually taught any algebra at all to date. I don’t have any residents this year. I got a real classroom. Oh, and I did indeed get married this summer and we bought a house and moved. And my sister moved cross country and I helped. So we’re basically all caught up.


Caili Helsper Photography

My students this year already think they’re bad at math, and one girl in particular tries so hard to give up. She won’t try anything (and by anything, I even mean writing down a practice problem in her notebook–not doing it, just writing it.) Today I told my students they ¬†needed the first section of their grid (just a bunch of rounding problems) filled out for an exit slip. She did nothing. It’s her M.O. To wait. And I guess it’s always worked. And it isn’t with me and it’s making her so mad. So she couldn’t leave. And we talked. And she cried. She’s a cheerleader who really doesn’t want to miss practice, but she went to the first half of practice and she’s here now. I want her to stay, and so I stay too, even though I’ve finally started to get caught up and I finished grading everything I have right now during lunch (don’t worry, I give an Algebra test and collect Stats homework tomorrow).

And, as if this post isn’t lame enough, here’s what I hope to be writing about soon:

  • Our foray into some mess of pseudo-standards-based-grading (Spoiler: It isn’t pretty.)
  • Maybe more fractions
  • Favorite lessons and practice structures

I missed you internet. It’s good to be back.

Fraction Success

Today is the last day of finals. I gave my regular-level Algebra class the final section of their final exam today, a “Choose 3 of 7” component.

Question 2 asked students to “Order the numbers 3/7, 0.75, 1/7 and 3/5 in ascending order, and explain how you arrived at your answer.”

I forgot to remind them that they can’t use decimals. When we spent so much time teaching fractions earlier in the year, we emphasized that our students needed to be able to work with fractions as fractions. That was the only way to get credit and we worked really hard on it. We felt like it worked, but that was ages ago.

The first question I graded was, “I switched them all to decimals to make it easier, then I ordered them.” Oh, NO. I forgot to say something, they’re all going to do it wrong, I can’t give them credit for that.

And then I kept reading.

This was a CHOICE exam. No one HAD to do fractions. And a third of them did (Ok, to be fair, the kid with a 90.03 chose all 7–better safe than sorry I guess.)

But I read answers like these, with no reminders about decimals:

I arrived at my answer by looking at the fractions and seeing the amount of shares they needed to accomplish a whole and I took the one fraction who the most shares…

I turned .75 into 75 and put it over 100 it gave 3/4, which is bigger than the other fractions. 1/7 & 3/7 have the same size but different shares and 3/5 is bigger than 1/7 and 3/7

For a topic dating back to October, I am so pleased with these answers. I think we managed to change at least some of our students attitudes towards fractions, and lead them to actual understanding of what they’re doing.

I hope to be able to do even more with this next year. Anyone interested in collaborating? My sister is teaching fractions to adults again this summer….

The Twelve Days of Statistics

A little late about this, but bookmark this one for next year!

Last year, I posted the Twelve Days of Algebra, which I got from ICTM several years ago. But my Stats students were a little hurt when I had to sing them the 12 Days of Algebra in Stats. So we fixed that right up.

My awesome resident took lyrics that some former students had worked on and refined them and now we have:

Behold, happy 10th day of Stats class!

[Lyrics by Miranda De Young, 2013]

Fun with Fractions: Day 2

I’m blogging our fractions work daily–read Day 1.¬†

Today kicked off with a quick review of yesterday’s homework. It was pretty simple, just comparing ten pairs of fractions using their fraction strips (no, I had no way to verify and no, I don’t care). Then there were two questions designed for Higher Order Thinking.

…and, close almost kills them. “Which is greater, 4/5 or 8/10? Using your strips, find the two fractions that are most near in value without being equal.” This was definitely a “but, what’s the answer?” moment. The instructions were perfectly clear, you need to fold the strips. But that concept of close really threw them for a loop. Estimation is a scary scary concept for them.

I did a quick overview of number lines, starting to introduce the idea of equal partitions, sequential v proportional reasoning (which number do you place first between 0 and 4? Most of my students place 1.)–but only for a quick couple minutes.

Moving on, we did a couple more comparison problems as a problem to get us warmed up and ready to go, and then they moved into groups and got a set of 10 comparisons. We didn’t want to get rid of context entirely, but we ultimately want them to classify these by type and didn’t want any groups mistakenly using things like, “these were all boys and these were all girls!” or, “these were about food!”

On the document above, they’re organized for teachers; I just made the questions only larger and printed one set per group of four. We gave them scissors to slice up the problems and then they solved these in their groups. I offered up the answers to anyone who was interested to emphasize how little I care about the answers and how much I care about their explanations. Most of the groups were trying really hard, which was awesome. (Side note: it should be missing piece–7/10 and 6/9 is super hard to explain!)

We ended up needing about half an hour to solve them, and then we gave them 10 minutes to sort them into groups of like problems. We brought it back together to generate categories–the students were having great conversations in their groups but were scared to speak up, but we got there eventually. After matching an example to each one, we assigned each group one category to write up for their peers. [This is where I say this was awesome, which I think it will be, but we have a shortened schedule for PSAT testing for sophomores and didn’t finish. Sadness.]

How do you prompt students to answer tough questions without giving them what you want to hear?

I developed this lesson with my team; the file was created by CC.

Highs & Lows

I go back to school officially tomorrow, with the students following on Monday.

Since Thursday its been quite the rollercoaster.

I’ve been assuming for a long time that I would have a room change, so when the new master schedule came out Thursday, I wasn’t at all surprised to see my name next to a different room. It was a good room, the corner on the 2nd floor, currently occupied by a special ed program. The schedule was provisional, of course, but I was pleased. I even decently like the periods I teach.

And then came another email.

There’s been another change. The special ed program isn’t moving (this is a long and torturous story that involves someone with a grudge at the Central Office). So I have another assignment.

In the bookroom.

You know, the room where the extra books are stored, the concrete block one with the industrial metal shelving? The one with the concession window to the hallway where the lunch line is? Yeah. That one.

And there’s a catch.

They haven’t really built it yet. Technically its still the bookroom, and there isn’t furniture, the floor doesn’t match up, no electrical and the wall has to be removed and then that area patched.


We’ll come back to that in a minute, but two weeks ago I found out I have one resident, not two, this year. Her name is Miranda and while she doesn’t have the stats background I was hoping for, she seems ready to learn. She already sat through 4 hours of the Algebra 1 team bouncing all over the place, so that’s a good sign.

And this whole room thing…

“Hmmm….it’ll be fine. We could buy exercise balls. You know, the kind at Target? Those are pretty cheap right? Who needs desks!”

“Oh, and if the kids are bad, we’ll give them detention. They can blow up the balls with a bicycle pump!”

“We’ll just have…classroom jobs. Like, two kids can stand there and hold the chart paper up.”

On an amusing note, my fiance was pressing me to come up with SOMETHING positive, and the only thing I could come up with was that it was close to the copiers. And then at our Mentor meeting on Monday we covered some logistics, including copiers. Apparently they’re moving. Sigh. But its ok, Miranda’s going to get roller blades. That or it’ll be another classroom job. I think I should have her make me a list.

So its a pretty terrible room, and not what I expected and no one is entirely sure if it will even hold 30 desks plus ours. But I have a job, and I think my resident and I are going to have a pretty fun year.

And people have worse locations than a large closet, right? Anyone? Please?

If you’re wondering, this has nothing to do with me. The other choice doesn’t have full walls, which my admin (correctly) assumed would drive me INSANE, and because this was such a late change, they couldn’t put me into a better room. They don’t hate me, it isn’t personal, and they aren’t trying to push me out. Just a really bad situation for me.


The Values on the Unit Circle…

I can’t take credit for this one, but it’s a great idea if you’re still working on the Unit Circle. Our students have been struggling with the idea of the values going back around, so he had a brilliant idea.

In keeping with my Slope Dance tradition, my resident made up this song, to the tune of “The Wheels on the Bus”


The Unit Circle Values go round and round,

round and round, round and round.

The Unit Circle Values go round and round, every 360.


And Sine and Cosine repeat and repeat,

repeat and repeat, repeat and repeat.

And Sine and Cosine repeat and repeat, every 2p.


And then we made up dance moves. The first verse is just circling your hand around in front of you. The second verse you go up and down like a sine curve. It’s good times.

Do you make up songs and dances? Do your students like them? Do they make fun of them and then do them to prepare for tests and at school functions like the Dance Marathon? (The girls who won totally slope danced!)

Now That Its Over…

The AP Test was on Friday.

My school also let 8 people go.

One of them was administering the AP Exam.

Cumulatively, this did not go well. Friday afternoon, I was really upset. I had followed up so many times, trying to ensure that my 9 students taking two exams in one day would get fed, that the timing was taken care of, that we were taking steps to minimize disruptions. I was getting, honestly, pretty annoying.

And yet everything I was worried about, happened. They tested in the gym so announcement after announcement echoed over them. Over 100 kids waited for athletics to start after school in the hall outside the gym. And when I asked the person administering the test who was responsible, she shrugged and said “I don’t know.” I was crushed. My students worked SO HARD for this…and I felt like they just didn’t care.

I didn’t wait around the 20 more minutes for them to finish; I was way too upset. A quick group text on the way home and that was it. And then their replies. “It was easy…I’m scared ^-^” from one of my strongest students. “I feel pretty confident about my free responses. I think I can actually pass this test” from one of my weakest (who passed very few of my tests). But overall…they felt good. And so I felt a lot better too.

The questions were posted online today, so I did them and we went over them in class. A couple kids were concerned, but mostly smiles. “YES.” “That’s what I thought it was.” “Yep, I totally did that.” It was really nice to see.

And then we played cards. My students are unfamiliar with a deck of cards. I’ll have to fix that.

But now…