Day 179: A look back

Jeopardy Review today, if you need something last minute, this is a fun way to spend a period (heads up, there are a few errors, it is fun getting students fired up about them though. I am keeping ’em for next year)

Anyways, Back in August I posted about this 180 day blog thing. I want to take a little time to re-visit the goals I put in place.

My Goals:

  1. Get plugged into the math blogosphere
  2. Challenge myself to always be better
  3. Accountability
  4. Provide resources for others


1.  I have met quite a few people over the last year or so, Twitter + this blog + other blogs have served as a corner for meaningful discussions. I have neglected Twitter though, I pretty much exclusively use it as a way to get this blog out there. I wanna work on that next year.

2/3.  Looking back, 2 and 3 pretty much go hand in hand. In my eyes, a successful teacher holds themselves accountable to always bettering themselves. Long story short, I spent hours prepping each weekend, were interesting enough to write about each day. This was really hard and became exponentially harder as the year went on.

4.  The amazing amount of support the #MTBoS community has provided is unimaginable. It is excited to see the community grow and great to be a part of it.

One more day…


Day 174: Guess My Rule

I put this up as the opener for algebra today:


A large chunk of students quickly jumped to “the previous number times two”.

That wasn’t my rule.

Then they shifted to +2, +4 +6…

That wasn’t my rule either.

Silence for about 2 minutes… Then a student asked “Is the next number 10?”

“That fits my rule” I replied.

This threw ’em all off… They dabbled around with different numbers for a bit, I had fun with it, especially when they pitched crazy numbers like 54, 81, and 1092, which fit my rule.

Eventually, they drifted into trying to find numbers that didn’t fit my rule… which is awesome problem solving.

This really is the heart of what I want to get at through all this factoring, solving, graphing and so on. To me math isn’t so much about memorizing or reproducing a certain skill, but more about taking what you know and tweaking it to solve some crazy problem you have never seen before.

That moment where you have abandoned all hope and try some crazy technique in a problem that you learned months or years ago, which ends up working is what I love about math. The struggle leading up to that moment; following hundreds of self-imposed rules and just sheer grit isn’t easy. It is even more difficult to learn and teaching it takes someone really special.

Everyday I try and very delicately move students towards that direction. With the hopes that maybe, at some point in their lives, in a situation that isn’t even close to math related, they will be able to use their critical thinking abilities, which took years to develop, to solve a difficult problem and experience that felling of having everything fall perfectly into place.

For me, that hope makes everyday worth it.

By the way… my rule was each number had to be larger than the previous. They went crazy over this, some nasty reverse psychology on my end: They automatically see something math related and dive into testing different equations and rules, when really the rule doesn’t require anything fancy. Credit. 

Day 167: Tough.

At the moment, 90% of my students are passing.

By the end of the year, I believe that will drop to around 85% or so; those are the ones that I really feel good about moving onto either Geometry (where algebra will go) or Algebra II (where geometry will go).

I see a students mathematical understanding as a tower. At the beginning of the year, we lay down a large base/foundation by reviewing arithmetic, integer operations and two/multi step equations. The larger the base a student has, the more content they can handle though out the year.

After a couple weeks we hit a point where a majority of students are ready to move on, and in doing so some are unable to establish the necessary base. A couple of ’em move over to pre-algebra, but I believe in these students abilities to succeed, I want to keep them in my classes unless it is 100% clear they need to be re-placed.

Fast-forward to 34 weeks later and those little holes in understanding that we tried to patch along the way have turned into large tears. I am not quite sure how to patch them. We have three weeks left in the school year, is it worth the time to go back and review what the product of a positive and negative number is… daily?

I feel like I am really just dodging this question:

What do I do with the students who I know are not going to pass this year? 

I believe in them… I really do…

But, I would be doing a disservice to them if I inflate their grade and let them into geometry/algebra II knowing that as hard as they try, they are unable to solve a two/three step equation, much less a system of equations or quadratic.

The Quadratic Formula is not the place to teach anyone about integer operations or the order of operations, but with a select group of students this is happening. The obvious answer is to give them a worksheet or some form of remediation on this. But, they also need work on solving equations and everything else that has lead up to where we are in class at the moment; that would take months.

Right now I am pushing the failing students forward. Each period, it feels like I am taking 24 students and shoving them through a doorway that they won’t all fit through.

Day 152: On Classroom Management

When I was in college, I took a lot of hypothetical classes. During those classes, we explored what to do if situation A, B, or C erupted, then very thoroughly looked at all the different paths to take in dealing with said conflicts.

I spent some time observing classrooms where teachers had everything under control and also taught a few lessons to students who had their real teachers at the time breathing down their necks, instilling the fear of you-will-get-your-face-ripped-off-if-you-try-anything.

Here is an outline of my  classroom management  progression:

1.  Student teaching

  • I take over the classroom and present a list of 7 class rules/consequences I have come up with (This is what every classroom management book said to do; clear expectations. yeah.)
  • Students test the waters and realize I am a pushover.
  • My cooperating teacher comes and lays into each class.
  • I create a new, refined list of rules/consequences.
  • I don’t back those up, all hell breaks loose.
  • I tell on misbehaving students to my cooperating teacher, she takes care of it.
  • I tell myself things will be better when I have my own classes and I can start from scratch.

2.  First year

  • I continue to refine my list of rules, this time it is down to 5.
  • I am very nervous and I smile a lot, students tell me this.
  • I introduce some fun lessons and develop relationships with a few students, they back me up when I need it.
  • I let some things slide that I probably shouldn’t, a few pretty big conflicts erupt, scripted interventions have no effect.
  • My classes are noisy, I pass out a lot of note cards asking students to rate their behaviors and we talk about it, then forget about it.
  • I realize it doesn’t really matter what I say to students, but how I say it.
  • I don’t feel like backing up all the rules I have put in place.
  • Come February, I decide that it is time to focus on classroom management. This really translates into no groups work, seating students in rows, lunch detention slips and lots and lots of worksheets.
  • April comes around and students are back to their primal educational instincts; book work and lectures. Life is good?
  • Without any clear expectations, I try group work and 3-act problems again. They go well for a bit then crash and burn near the end of the year.
  • I tell myself things will be better next year.

3.  Year Two

  • The classroom rules I came up with didn’t work, I decide to throw them out entirely.
  • I make a pledge to greet each student at the door as they walk in and give ’em those 5 minutes in between classes to do whatever in the room.
  • The amount of conversation while I am trying to teach gets out of control, I tell myself I am going to wait for dead silence whenever this happens. That plan doesn’t work well.
  • I decide to put up two rules in my room.
  • I back up those rules, I will die over them if I have to.


Classroom management is a crazy thing because one day a certain strategy will work then the sparkles wear off and it flops the next time I try to execute it. I am not even close to developing a plan that works for me, it is still try, fail, revise, and try again. I don’t know when that cycle will change but over the past two or so years of teaching I have really learned three key points.


It doesn’t really matter how many times I threaten students if I am doing it with a smile on my face. If tell a student to be quite in a kind and forgiving way they will brush it off. I have learned that how am I saying something to students matters more that what I am saying. 


This year was the first year I asked about what goes on in my student’s lives. We talk about their weekends every Monday and Friday. Greeting students each day has provided a positive start to each day. Plus, it wipes the slate clean from the previous day.

My life:

I tell students stories about my crazy roommates in college. One would feed dead flies off the windowsill to his pet fly trap. Another would go wander in the woods for 14+ hours a couple Saturday’s a month. Whatever fun stories I have, I take the time to share with them with my students. On my recent surveys, students have given positive feedback on particular part of their experience in my classroom. They love stories.

I still feel I have a long way to go in creating a successful classroom management plan. I am not sure if there is going to be a magical day where everything just clicks from there on or if it is a very slow process and will never really feel established. Either way, I make mistakes and learn from those. *On a side note… I am developing the ability to predict the future; I can read students and the direction of their behaviors which is fun.

There is never a dull day in my classroom.


Day 142: This and that

Algebra and geometry took concept tests today. These are always kind of interesting because they take less than 20 minutes, which leaves me with 30 minutes of instruction time. Today I introduced factoring special products then they took the test.

I am not sure what the best way to spend the other 30 minutes is… (we take concept tests nearly every week)

I have tried:

  1. Testing then teaching and vice-versa.
  2. Finding some interesting puzzle/problem for students to work on after the test.
  3. Study hall after the test (Another way of saying I didn’t plan anything)

My go to is something like #1. The issue with this is my lower students get the concepts on the test mixed up with the new concepts I just taught (Especially today when we covered factoring special products and then multiplying special binomial products was on the test). Plus I am not sure how much of the information students actually retain when they know they have a test coming in the next 25 or so minutes.

#2 is what I would like to do all the time. However, students don’t seem to get as excited about these problems and feel that since they already took a test, they can check out for the rest of the day.

#3 is… a waste of valuable time if I test each week.

Finding a balance is hard, I am interested in how you use the extra time after a quiz/test.

Day 125: Off

I was out sick Thursday and Friday of last week and came back to crazy today.

Algebra is working on properties of exponents. They had back to back worksheets, which I graded over the weekend.They were… let’s not talk about them actually. It feels like over the past few weeks I have been so caught up in focusing on the concept that I have put the students on the back-burner; trying to plow through content.

I don’t like feeling this way.

**30 minutes after that sentence**

A student came in for help while I was writing and we retested over a concept. This student raised a concept score from a 2 to a 4 (which is near mastery). This student has made a tremendous amount of progress throughout the year.

After the student left, I sent a email to the parents telling them what I wrote above. I have already had a few posts about this but January/February/March are tough. A lot of teachers talk about it and it is hard not to join in on the negativity.

Something I always forget is for every 1 aspect of teaching that goes wrong, there are 10 positives to out weigh it. I have some students see problems in amazing ways, I am even jealous sometimes of it! There are also students like the one above who have come so far this year. Recognizing and focusing on those students and positive interactions makes the January/February/March crunch no big deal.

Day 111: Instructional Value?

Right now in algebra, students are just wrapping up graphing systems of inequalities. According to my exit slips/formative assessments they are pretty good at it.

I spent a whole lot of time the last couple weeks digging around for activities and resources on rich problems involving systems of inequalities. Here are a couple of my favorites:

Ohio Jones by Dan Wekselgreene

Lego Pieces by Fawn Nguyen

I regret not using either of these this year.

However, I am in a weird position that I haven’t ever really found myself in…

Normally when I find an activity/task I am excited about I go for it, without any hesitation. Right now though, I feel a pressure just to get through the content. I dunno, I guess I am trying to say I don’t really feel like spending extra days exploring and setting up struggle for students with this particular concept.

And I am normally all about that.

I started teaching linear inequalities by asking students how many solutions various equations have…

y = x + 3

lxl = 5

y = x + 3

then dropped

y > x + 3

It took so much time to get through one linear inequality and I am not sure what value this approach has over just telling students the short cuts of shading/line types. It does not feel to me that the time we sunk into it was worth it. The transition from pure math or interesting problems into using a system of linear inequalities to solve them is rocky. Hopefully by next year I will have some time to think and come back with a better understanding of my struggles right now!