Curriculum Writing

Since I have been in my district, I have been involved in some type of curriculum writing committee each year…8th grade math, Algebra 1, 7th grade math and this year, Geometry.  I love it.  Sometimes I dislike the format we need to fit things into, but I love organizing units, seeing how it all fits together (or how it should fit together) and finding activities and resources to hit those topics the best.  I spend my summers going through my files, tossing, keeping and replacing to better reach my students.  I use the internet, Twitter and my Blog reader to find new methods, activities and ideas.  It excites me and I love watching it play out in the classroom.  I love the ability to improve a lesson for 8th and 9th period if it fell flat during 7th.  I love being able to change it all again for the following year to make it even better.  I think I am crazy to enjoy it.  Are there others out there like me?

With the changes to what I am doing next year, I won’t be teaching Geometry so I can’t fix what I didn’t like this year.  And because I won’t have my own classes, I won’t really have much planning to do over the summer.  It’s like a whole new world for me and it’s scary, but it will be a good learning experience, a challenge and a change. Being an Interventionist will be quite a change from the daily grind of teaching, but I want to go into it with an open mind because it’s a situation that I can gain a lot from, the students I will work with will be able to teach me a lot and I look forward to helping them learn and learning along with them. 🙂




US History tied to Math

Being in the middle school, I have taught US History for 12 years and while I initially was not thrilled to teach it, it has become a subject that I love.  I love the discussions that my students can have because they feel that sharing an opinion is “safe”. They challenge each other, add to what someone else said and bring up good questions that make all of us think. They all want to participate and discussion tend to go longer than planned.  Why can’t this be a math classroom?  Why are students so afraid to do all of this in math? I see it even more now because I have the same group of students for History that I do for Geometry.  In History while evaluating primary sources, they toss out questions, ideas and opinions, but in Geometry when we look at different ways to solve a problem, they take it as it is and rarely challenge.  I have found they do much better in small groups, at their tables, sharing with each other.  I love using cooperative grouping in my classroom, but can’t they reach a point where sharing to a large group is okay?  I want them to treat math the same way…without fear of what they say, without judgment by their peers for the answer they share, because that is the math classroom I desire and they deserve.  Now how can I improve on this for the future?



Being Honest with Students

I am currently in our unit on Coordinate Geometry and feel like I’ve had some good activities and some not so good activities.  My students struggled a bit through identifying a missing coordinate when given variables and not numbers.  But because of their formative assessment I was able to identify the errors made and who still needed assistance.  This allowed me to back up, address general concerns to the group and then clarify specific misconceptions with those who needed it.  This is one of my favorite parts of teaching…trying something new and realizing  that maybe it didn’t work, but being honest with the students and provide another opportunity to understand and master the concept. Students need to know that learning is a journey and mistakes will continue to be made because that is the CORE of learning.  I feel that by showing them that I am still trying and failing, they will see that it is okay.  I found that my gifted students this year disliked sharing an answer or even a guess if they weren’t 100% sure they will be right.  I’ve been working hard to foster a growth mindset and allow them to be comfortable struggling, yet they aren’t quite where I want them to be.  We still have over a month to go…there’s still time!



Design your Dream Home Project

As I began to approach the next units in the Geometry curriculum that covered area, surface area and volume, topics that my students had plenty of prior knowledge of, I wanted to try something different.  I didn’t want to review topics they knew through mini-lessons, activities and practice.  I wanted to take their prior knowledge and extend it.  Then I remembered Sarah’s ( blog post about her Apartment Remodel project and I knew what I was going to do.  I got in touch with Sarah, asking tons of questions and getting a lot of assistance (She’s awesome by the way). I shared my thoughts with another teacher in my district and she wanted to do this with her students too.  I shared all of Sarah’s links and answers to questions with her and she jumped in with both feet.  It was so nice to have another teacher in the district to collaborate with AND she was just about to leave on her pregnancy leave and she still went all in.  She was a bit ahead of me and I started looking at files I had of other things and that’s when I went crazy.

I kid you not…I wanted to do more, to make my students stretch more and to really see how this could be used in real life.  Sarah’s project was awesome but with a few things I was dealing with at the Admin evaluation level, I felt like it wasn’t enough.

So, I went and changed EVERYTHING I was doing.  I used Sarah’s flooring and painting as part of my project, but nothing else was the same.  Why have them each change the same floor plan? It was definitely easier on the teacher for grading, but after conversations with my principal about student choice (that’s an entirely different blog post), I wanted to give them more freedom within some real life constraints. Plus I wanted to include area, surface area and volume within the project.

Thus the Design your Dream Home project was born, but I had a lot of help from a teacher who I had found YEARS ago, I think the original file that I had for this project was from 2004 or 2005.  Here is a link to his classroom website, where he shares all files and explanations of the project. He also has tons of other awesome project he does within his classroom.

This was a 5 week project, with 11 in class work days and each week had one mini-lesson day covering certain skills along with a skill quiz on earlier skills.  (There were a handful of short weeks within the time frame we did this.) I still wanted to keep up with SBG as we went through the project.  The students were to build their dream home to fit on a specific lot size, meet a certain square footage and fall within a certain cost.  They had to meet local building codes, include certain rooms, but have freedom for layout, landscaping, etc.  Students worked in groups of 2, 3, or 4 and split up their jobs at the start of the project.  In the future, I would prefer groups of 3 and remind them more of their specific jobs they signed up for…budgeting time is NOT a strong suit of middle school students and while they could have each been working on their individual to do lists, the groups tended to work on one thing together.

We decided as a group that we wanted to have an open house, we picked the date and I had the students organize it, create the wording for the flyers (but they wanted me to create it with fun fonts, they know me well), figure out how to best set up the area for the open house and who to invite.  The evening was a HUGE success, even though the week of I was freaking out because my students procrastination level was SO much higher than I wanted and we had this hard fast deadline we couldn’t change. We had architects, realtors, home builders, parents, siblings, teachers and even our new superintendent in attendance. My students were so excited!

This project brought together more than I originally intended in a great way, heck it even had students IN SCHOOL on their days off.  We had a few institute days during this time and I told students they could come work, if they wanted to…on a day off.  That was pretty neat.

If I am teaching Geometry again next year, I will do this, but change a handful of things.

  • Add a job completion checklist for each job to help keep students on track daily. I had a daily to do list, but maybe more specific to each job would be helpful…I’m not sure.
  • Remove the video part of the project, seemed like it was tossed in and cause more issues than we needed. Plue they weren’t easily viewable during our Open House.
  • Add an Award for Best Sales Pitch. We never discussed the specifics of what the Open House would look like, but I told them they needed to be ready to answer questions and explain why they did what they did in their house. They ended up trying to “sell” the house to the adults as they walked by, a lot of it was to pitch what they were trying to get an award for, but it was awesome.
  • Find a way to keep better track of the architecture & landscaping templates. They are EXPENSIVE and I am still missing some.
  • Reorganize the packet I gave them. It needs to be easier to find the information they need, I think some of their issues were how I organized the information.

This was by far my favorite thing so far this year. What I learned is that my students still struggle with reading directions, they are afraid to take risks unless they get confirmation from me and they need to do things like this more often.

Note taking, no textbooks & ISN’s, how does it all fit together?

*WARNING* This is a longer than planned post and involved…I am asking for ideas and help…proceed with caution! 🙂

At the end of each quarter since I started teaching 14 years ago, I have had my students complete a survey/reflection on the quarter. It’s evolved and improved over the years, but the idea was the same…I wanted to know what they thought about my teaching, our classroom, the activities we did and anything else they wanted to share.  I used to just read them and reflect on my own; I would come in the next quarter with ideas, some changes based upon the survey and some that I already knew I wanted to do. I would clarify misconceptions and provide more reasons and examples as to why certain things were done.  I always found them valuable, sometimes in a kick in my backside type of way and sometimes reassurance that what I was doing was working.  I found students to be honest, sometimes more than I expected, but I grew as a teacher from it.  In the last handful of years after I have given the survey, I crunch the data, toss some in graphical format and share it WITH the students.  I have asked them to review the graphs, the information shared and to tell me what it means. I share the comments they write and we talk about it together as a class.  I want them to know that I value their opinions, that I take them seriously and I am always striving to make our classroom better.  It has been within this type of situation that students have mentioned they feel heard, valued and that they have a say in the classroom.  Do I change everything? No, but we have honest discussions about it; I consider it and I might even poll them again on a specific topic to help make a decision.  I still toss in a few changes that I knew I wanted to make, but overall it comes from them.

It is in this situation where I am stuck currently.  I gave the quarter 1 survey (google doc this time around), I knew they completed it because I had looked at a few of the responses.  Today’s class was the day we were going to talk about the results, so last night I finally opened them up and read through them.  I will skip over the love they have for the class and the way we do things, their love for SBG and their love/hate relationship with cooperative learning for this post and yet focus on another aspect dear to my heart, the Interactive Notebook.

I had a section about the notebook asking questions about it, but it was in the very last box titled “Anything else you want to share?” where some *unprompted* shared their extreme love and/or hate of the interactive notebook.  The dislike for it took me by surprise, not one peep from my lovelies about them in a bad way since day 1, NOT ONE. Yet here they were (to clarify THEY = the 15 students who dislike the ISN or parts of it out of the 114 students that I use them with), sharing without any fear or filter, which is what I was looking for.

Here are the negative comments: (only sharing these because I want to focus on how to make this better)

  • I would rather work in a class where some students teach others than tape things into our notebook.
  • isn is really bad. its a waste of time. parents will agree
  • I really think we shouldn’t grade ISNs because nobody really graded our notes in past grades. Previous teachers have graded what comes out of our notes and understanding such as tests and quizzes. At first, I was really enthusiastic about having everything organized in the ISN… but as I thought about it, i realized that I wasn’t learning much from the foldables and coloring. I’m just a type of person that really likes to take my own notes in my own method. I don’t think we should have to worry about decorating our notebooks and having things taped in and secured on top of so much other work that we have to do. This has nothing to do with your teaching because I feel like I’m able to understand what you teach me better than I have with other teachers in the past but I just feel like we shouldn’t have our ISNs graded. Again, this is just my opinion and you don’t have to listen to this by any means, but I just wanted to let you know! Thank you, and I can’t wait for a great rest of the year!
  • I really dont prefer the ISN and really like using my own notebook that is not so strictly scheduled and my own notebook helps me alot more for studying
  • I find it completely ridiculous that the ISN requires you to color the left hand side pages.
  • I really don’t think the ISN is helping me.
  • I enjoy class, but sometimes the ISN can be a lot to keep track of.
  • I like working with groups but also on my own. I am not a huge fan over the ISN-when notes are not my own, I find them more difficult to understand. It also takes away time that we could use to practice concepts and understand them well. I like the traditional way of taking notes.
  • I think that to learn material well, the ISN isnt totally helping bc it is very easy to slack off. a better way would be to use a textbook and do worksheets.
  • I would like to bring up the topic that the ISN wastes valuable time where we could be learning but instead we are taping I know many who agree and I don’t know how many were willing to say it on the survey but I would prefer to use an actual textbook to help me with practice problems, and I do know I can get practice problems in other places but i prefer to get them in a textbook.
  • I like taking my own notes instead of taping in notes in the ISN because I understand the lesson more if i write my own notes. I don’t like the ISN at all. The ISN doesn’t help me with anything because everybody’s notes are the same. I study better with the notes I write and I think the ISN is useless. I would rather have my own notebook than the ISN.
  • I don’t really like the ISN because its a lot of gluing and cutting. Also, I have to pay more attention to the ISN then learning material because I know its a grade.
  • I don’t enjoy using the ISN. It is not really my style.
  • I don’t think the ISN is very helpful
  • I enjoy math class a lot, but I wish to use the textbook more.  the ISN is a helpful study tool, but sometimes feels as if the ISN is like a scrapbook! 🙂 but overall, I am very happy as to how math class is going and I am looking forward to the rest of a wonderful school year!

I do find it cute that they share their dislike for the ISN and their excitement over the rest of the year within two sentences…I love middle school!

Before I went crazy with things spinning in my own mind, I turned to twitter to share it with other minds to help me:

My mind was racing and I knew that I wanted to use the student comments to clarify a few things, but that more importantly I had students that wanted a different way to take notes.  What was I going to do? And my online PLN responded with ideas and questions of their own.  It was Megan (@mgolding) who suggested a blog post and discussion, so blame her for this long post! 🙂

Things to note:

  • This is a small amount of students who do not like the interactive notebook, the rest love it and have said so in the survey, in person and even after today’s in class discussion.
  • We DO NOT have textbooks, so learning from a textbook and just doing worksheets, isn’t going to happen.  We have an online version and a handful of books in the classroom, but our curriculum jumps around the “book” anyways.  It is not a useful resource for the students or myself. This is a HUGE change from last year for the students.
  • These students really do prefer “traditional” teaching and learning. This is what they have known, this might be all they have known and I have hit them with cooperative grouping, open ended tasks, SBG and Interactive notebooks.
  • These students are good students, many have their own way of organizing and taking notes already, which is different from any of my previous classes of students.
  • These students are used to learning FROM a textbook, like “read this, look at the examples and figure out the 20 homework problems”. Not much in regards to shared notes or class discussion. They are used to creating their own notes from going through the material on their own.
  • The cutting & taping (which seems to be a big issue) takes 5 minutes, maybe 10 on a long day…BUT it happens while they are doing their warm-up or something else.
  • Every parent that I have spoken with or heard from loves the class and the notebooks. The parent reflections on the notebooks for quarter 1 back this up.
  • This year my goal was to improve the left side of the ISN, which has happened, but that is where the “coloring” comes in…working on the creative side of the brain.
  • I have told them the ISN is their textbook, their reference.  It contains notes, examples and practice problems.  And it contains their reflection on their notes.
  • I have dabbled in the flipped classroom where they take notes at home while watching a short video and we practice all day the next day in class.

The issues

  • I am dealing with “traditional” learning students. The ISN might not be the whole issue, I think some of it is the way I am asking them to learn and how it is so different from what they know. How do I make it easier?  Example: they told me today they want me to create powerpoints with screen shots of the book and go through the examples in the book with them. 🙂 Ummm….no that sounds awful, there has to be a better way.
  • Some students want to take their own notes (which again I find interesting because they currently take their own notes, just happens to be in foldable format provided by me). How do I incorporate this desire into the classroom?

What I am considering:

  • Giving up on the coloring.  All classes asked for this, easy to give up…no big deal. But I can still ask them to reflect.
  • Allowing students who want to take their own notes to do so, but I might ask them to conference with me about it first so we can be on the same page with our expectations.  Rather than let them jump into a whole new format, I think I am going to ask that they take them in the ISN, but can do so however they want.
  • Teaching students how to use notes to study, this seems to be an issue this year, not knowing HOW to prepare for math tests and how to use their notes. Is it different because it is Geometry? Last year my students loved their ISN’s  in Algebra and 8th CCSS and used them all of the time. The students above claim it isn’t useful, is that because they don’t know how to use it, how to find things within their notes? This discussion also came up during our Twitter conversation.

I need your help, your suggestions, your ideas.  I want to improve my classroom for second quarter and I want to help my students understand the importance of notes in any format.  Is the current trend to change  classroom dynamics to being student centered removing the aspect of notetaking? How do you disseminate important information to your students?  Do your students keep a notebook? binder? etc? As we move to classrooms without hard copy textbooks, what does that mean for notetaking? How do you help the “traditional” students become comfortable in a student centered classroom?

If you made it this far, WAY TO GO! Thanks for hanging with me!


#Made4Math: Weekly Warm-up Sheet 2.0

I LOVE doing these weekly warm-ups with my students.  They have been great! Check here if you want to read about them in my original post. A few reflections:

*Giving them the weekly sheet on Monday of each week keeps me from forgetting or skipping a day.
*I love that it has all the days of the week on one sheet (front & back)
*The layout was easy to check each Friday.
*I’ve been using these as a way to give feedback without a grade. I check to make sure their warm-ups are completed for each day and I read the weekly reflections on Friday before I leave school.
*I’ve been referencing the math practices when giving feedback…be precise, etc.
*I definitely like the Weekly Reflection on the back. It’s a good gauge on the week’s lessons and activities and let’s me know where they still have questions.
*They were told they had to write one thing that was still circling their mind under threat of death. 🙂 Not really death, but if they did write “Nothing” for that part, I googled random trivia and would write a question there for them.
*This gives them something to do when they walk into my classroom and they are picking up on the routine.
*They have mentioned that they like doing these problems!

*Oh boy do they not like to reflect when doing the Estimation problems. We keep talking about how “I looked at it.” is not an appropriate response for listing your reasoning.
*I didn’t like the layout for Tough Patterns Tuesday because they essentially had to write the equation twice, once in the table and again on the line I made for the equations.
*I need to keep reminding them for the What We’ve Been Doing Wednesday and Flashback Friday boxes to draw all graphics and write the original problem.
*Sometimes it takes more time than I intended, even with my music cues, but that’s because we are having great discussions and THAT’S OKAY.
*Sometimes they are WAY too chatty during this time, but I am okay with it as long as they are completing the problem. (walking around does help this a lot)
*I wish we could fit in Estimation each day because it’s fun when they build on each other faster than once a week.
*Because of the style of warm-up problems, it is not easy to have students go over the answers like I have done in the past.

*I made the line in Tough Patterns Tuesday say Correct Equation. This is where I intend for them to write the correct answer when we share it in class.
*Per a student request, I change Thursday and Friday.  They wanted Throwback Thursday (I agreed once I heard it, so much better than what I had.) and told them I would switch it once I could figure out another name for Friday. Tonight I used the online dictionary to find synonyms for mistake and came across Flub and Faux Pas. Initially I liked Faux Pas Friday, but the true definition of Faux Pas (socially awkward or tactless act) made it seem like the mistake was embarrassing to do. So I changed it to Find the Flub Friday and it’s catchy!
*I added “Draw all pictures/graphics and write the original problem.” to both Wednesday and Thursday.
*There was a Friday a couple of weeks ago where I had a really bad, no good, rotten, very bad day and didn’t want to leave the week on a crabby note.  So when they were writing their weekly reflection, I asked them to share one good thing from the week with me, since I had such a bad one.  To be honest, I enjoyed reading about their week and their one good thing more than I thought.  I liked hearing about what was good or bad…a few students said they had bad weeks too. So the next week I asked them to share one good thing again.  Therefore I changed the line in the Weekly Reflection from “Anything else you want to share” to Share One Good Thing from your week”.

So here is my Weekly Warm-up Sheet version 2.0! Enjoy!

Dance, Dance, Transversal

FINALLY, my post about Dance, Dance, Transversal with my Geometry classes.  I tweeted about this and promised I would blog about it, but told myself I wouldn’t until I got through the other draft blog posts I had started and not finished.  Therefore I have published 3 posts tonight and this is my 4th! Please ignore the fact that I should be grading…my quarter ends Friday.

Important Note: This is not my original idea…I got it from a teacher in my district, but modified it to fit my needs. I renamed it Dance, Dance, Transversal from his Dance, Dance, Geometry simply because we were dancing around the transversal.

How to play:
1. Purchase masking tape or painters tape for the floor.
2. Locate a large area to play that also has a computer and projector. Or move the desks in your classroom.
3. Tape two parallel lines & a transversal on the floor, one for each student. OR since I have 38, I did 19 and paired the students up. Here is a picture I took before I finished putting all of the tape on the ground in our house area.


4. Create a powerpoint that moves similar to Dance, Dance, Revolution with the words/locations flying up the screen.  Since this was not my idea, I do not want to share the powerpoint I received from my district teacher friend, but I will share a screen shot to give you an idea. You can do this by using powerpoint & creating a slide with the angles you want them to dance, like corresponding, alt. interior, alt. exterior, vertical. Then type the words of those angles at the top and copy and paste them at the bottom and then animate the words at the bottom in the following manner…. animations-lines-up-as one object. The more words you add at the bottom, the more will fly up the screen that the students have to dance to. Then you need to set the time; you can do different rounds by speeding up the flying of the words through…start after previous-duration. Change the duration to speed it up.  Add music to play during the slide. *

5. Send a text via Remind101 to your students the night before telling them to bring their dancing shoes for Dance, Dance, Transversal.
6. Play! We played in pairs so the student watching could help correct the student dancing.  This became very loud.  We also had a boy vs. girl dance off in each class where the boys and girls each chose their tribute dancer and then the boys judged the girl and the girls judged the boy. 
7. This does not take all period, maybe 20-30 minutes. We went back into the classroom and they had time to start working on their review for the test the next day. 

I did this as a review before a test, but also could see how it would have been a good activity to do right after learning about all of the angles around a transversal.  The students had a blast…it was LOUD, so warn the classes around you. The students had a blast, they were SOOOO bad at getting the angles right. It takes a lot of coordination especially when we got into the faster and longer levels. I would definitely do this again!

*I did not make the powerpoint I used, so my directions in step 4 are as detailed as I could get.  I was trying to figure it out the best I could for you, so you could make it for yourself!

How could this be modified for later concepts in Geometry? They definitely liked the dancing idea, I would love to find a way to harness that!