Saturday, August 31, 2013

INB: Order of Operations

This is the right-hand side of our INB layout for Order of Operations, borrowed from here. I heard lots of "This isn't like last year!" as we were preparing our hopscotch graphic organizer and working the examples. That made my heart SO happy!

Friday, August 23, 2013

One Down.

Week 1.

That is almost all of the thought that I can formulate.

I don't know if I forgot how exhausting the first week of school is or if this year is more exhausting than most. I am leaning towards the latter since all of my co-workers seem to be in the same boat. Or maybe it's like childbirth where the pain winds up being worth it?

At any rate, here are a few standout moments.

  • The fire drill Wednesday was the first time we've practiced heading to our new safe place. Last year, we high-tailed it to the stadium, but this year, we trek across the street to the track field. Half of our school goes through the tunnel and half go over the street. Super interesting to herd these students who have been taught from infancy NEVER to cross the street and always to use the tunnel. Even more interesting that we had to wade through the mud to get from the parking lot to the track. Of course I wore sandals, and I wound up up to my ankles in mud. Found a handy new use for Clorox wipes and bonded with my girls who also wore sandals. 
  • A full week of lunch duty makes me so, so thankful for the normal one-day-a-week schedule. Since I plan 6th period, I need those twenty minutes to take a load off and regroup. We definitely needed to monitor those kids though. We share a cafeteria with the junior high, so our students know their way around, but they go from sitting by class in 8th grade to free-seating as freshmen. Their minds are blown! And we've been overwhelmed by the sheer number of them. We have well over 500 freshmen this year, and it's never more obvious than when they're all together in one room!
  • No more morning duty! One of the other teachers needed someone to cover her afternoon duty so that she could coach at the high school, so I volunteered. She's taking over my breakfast duty, so I don't have to be at work early at all this year. This is one of the highlights of my week. I love knowing that I can hit snooze that extra time if I need to. 
  • The kids have been having a field day with my last name. One of my students asked me yesterday, "Did you get your name off that TV show?" My answer? "Nope. I got my name off my husband." 
  • Already sick. Yep. Sure am. Went to bed with a slightly scratchy throat Wednesday night, woke up feeling like I'd been swallowing razor blades. Today, the congestion has literally turned me into a mouth-breather. Benadryl helps, but I can't function when I take it, so I've just been toughing it out. Who gets a cold by the third day of school? It's got to be a record. 
  • We've been giving benchmarks for the past two days. It never fails, my "digital natives" act as though they've never seen a computer before. They have the MOST trouble just logging on to the computers! Being out of my classroom is bad enough, but having them go crazy is really, really frustrating. 
  • I have a steady, heady mixture of kids this year. Two who are hearing-impaired; one who is blind in one eye; one who just moved from Alaska where he was homeschooled in every subject but math (since third grade!); one with emotional/behavioral disorders (ODD and PTSD); at least one whose parents are in the midst of divorce; one whose dad just earned back visitation rights; several severe asthmatics; others who carry epipens for their severe allergies; and one diabetic kid who has already had to break into the emergency kit I keep in my closet. First impressions: mostly good kids, only one whose been a total goober so far. 
All in all, it has been a really, really good week. Only 35 more to go!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Teacher Survival Kit

My sweet mama puts together a teacher survival kit each semester. I've seen several versions of these floating around, and before I put the contents of this semester's kit away today, I decided to snap a quick pic of her version.


  • Hard candy
  • Kleenex
  • Breakfast bars
  • Nuts and trail mix
  • Bandaids
  • Lip balm
  • Mints
  • Hand sanitizer, hand sanitizer, and more hand sanitizer
  • Hair elastics
  • Wet wipes
  • Clorox Wipes
  • Cold-Eeze lozenges
  • Not pictured: Advil, Pepto tablets
One thing I would be sure to add if I were giving this to a new teacher is duct tape! I bought several rolls of pretty duct tape before I started my first teaching job. I can't remember what the original purpose was or if I even had one, but I wound up using it for everything from re-binding old textbooks to covering holes in students jeans. I still use it all the time and usually pick up a roll or two at the beginning of each year.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

ISN: Learning Styles Foldable

I came to education by way of psychology, and topics like cognitive psychology and the psychology of learning still intrigue me, so I find myself electing to participate in professional development that relates to that. One of the courses I took last year focused on differentiating instruction based on learning styles and multiple intelligences. As part of that class, I had one of my geometry classes complete an inventory to determine their learning styles, and I'm planning on doing it with all of my students this year.

I spent some time today putting together a foldable that will (hopefully) help students identify and work with their dominant learning styles. The inventory questions and some of the suggestions were borrowed from the inventory Sarah Rubin gave her students last year. Since I am still using the legal paper donated to me a couple of years ago (Thanks, Mom!), I was able to get all of the info on one sheet of paper (front and back) with no shrinking or cutting necessary.

Scattered Thoughts

First, a February project idea. 
The math teachers are making a concerted effort to do things exactly the same way this year. Last year, there was a lot of midyear student-shuffling because the kids knew we did things differently and thought (perhaps rightly-so) that this meant there was an "easy" teacher and a "hard" teacher. Mid-year shuffling makes us question our teaching abilities and is a pain for everyone, so we want to avoid that this year.

This has meant a lot of compromising already, and one of my co-workers told me yesterday that one area she's not willing to compromise on is the African-American Mathematicians and Scientists project she assigns every February. The project she's assigned for the last twelve years requires students to research an African-American mathematician or scientist and present them to the class via poster or PowerPoint or what-have-you.  I think she may also have them write a biography on the person. 

I'm already thinking of ways I can make this project my own, and I'm thinking of having the kids put themselves in the mathematician's shoes and come up with two or three pics their person would have posted to instagram, a few tweets they would have posted, or maybe a YouTube video shot from the perspective of the mathematician. I think the kids could really have fun with this.

And a First Days/Last Days project, too.
I kind of the love the idea of having students write their math autobiographies at the beginning of the school year and then add to them as the year progresses or maybe as a culminating project at the end of the year. My kids would probably find this breakdown helpful.

Plus a game.
One of my least favorite sections to teach is interpreting graphs. None of us teachers really enjoy the topic, but our kids really, really hate it. And they struggle with it. I like this idea from Sarah Hagan of mathequalslove for practice describing/interpreting graphs. Graphing Scattergories is much more fun than anything we've come up with. 

I also really like the mathequalslove version of the marshmallow challenge. Her instructions are genius in their simplicity.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Thoughts Before a New School Year

Pre-planning week is over. It's so cliche, but I cannot believe how quickly this week has flown by. I will be heading back up to the school over the weekend so that I can put the finishing touches on a few things, but in general, I feel that if I had to teach kids tomorrow, I'd be fine.

Monday night was Open House. I currently have 141 students on my roster, and I had more than 80 students (and their families) show up Monday. The kids all looked so small, and I was reminded of how much last year's kids grew in the nine months they were with me. I know that I'll grow to love my new kids, but seeing all these new faces really made me miss the old ones.

The parents seemed eager to be involved, and several of them pulled me aside to say, "If you have any trouble with my child whatsoever, don't hesitate to let me know!" It's not usually those kids that need phone calls home, but it's nice to have that support starting out.  This year, we're going to be using Remind101 to send reminder e-mails and texts, and most of the parents seemed really excited about it. I hope they will use these reminders to stay on top of their kids about turning in homework, studying for tests, etc.

This morning, we attended training on data walls as our school is going to be piloting the use of a school-wide data wall for the district. I'm excited about the meaningful collaboration I think we're going to see this year.

I'm also pretty proud of the collaboration and teamwork the math department has already shown this week. We've been working like mad to get the first three units of Algebra 1 planned and ready to go, and I can't brag enough on their willingness to jump on board with interactive notebooks.

I have high hopes for this year!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

First Days: Algebra 1 Syllabus

Here's the Algebra 1 syllabus I am using this year. A lot of teachers are switching to the design-heavy flyer style, but I still prefer the old school format. It might not be as fun but I think it's more usable. The other teachers in my department have decided to use this one, too.

Students will be expected to keep the syllabus in their binders, so I won't have parents sign it. They'll sign the student information sheet that the kids complete the first week of school instead. I'll keep those in a binder behind my desk.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

ISN: An Interactive Notebook KWL

What I Know

When it comes to setting up an interactive notebook, there are basically two formats:

   1. "The left side is 'left' for the students."
  • Right side is for input (info/notes from teacher, text, etc.)
  • Left side is for output (where students process, apply, and reflect) 
  • As far as I can tell, this was the original format (what I think of as "traditional").
   2. "Left for Learning, Right for Reflection."
  • Left side is used for input (info/notes from teacher, text, etc.)
  • Right Side is for output (again, where students process, apply and reflect)
  • I think of this as the "logical" format. 

 What I Want to Know

  • Who decided that the "traditional format" was the way to go? (I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that it wasn't a math teacher unless the logic is just well-hidden.)
  • How did they come to that decision? Were there actually reasons or was it just an arbitrary decision?
  • Are there teachers who've tried it both ways? I would love to hear/read their opinions on which is the better way to go.

What I Learned

(to be continued...)

Saturday, August 10, 2013

ISNs - I'm doing it!

For the past couple of years, I've been reading blogs and articles and seeing pins about interactive student notebooks (ISNs or INBs), and I've wanted to try them so badly! In the spring of 2012, before I accepted my current position, back when I thought I would be teaching 7th and 8th grade math again, I decided that the 2012-2013 school year would be my year to finally give it a try. And then I accepted my current position, and I knew that with the craziness of starting a new job in a new district, teaching courses I haven't taught since my internship, also trying to figure out ISNs would be a recipe for stress and disaster.

This year, we've had many, many students sign up to take Algebra 1 and far fewer sign up for Geometry, so I'll have only one prep--Algebra.  With only half as many lessons to plan and assessments to create and with our school's time-saving adoption of gradecam, this feels like the perfect time to venture outside my comfort zone and give ISNs a try.

So I'm doing it, y'all. And two of my co-workers have agreed to do it, too.

I have a feeling that there will be some frustration and struggle ahead, but I'm hoping that there will also be plenty of engagement and growth for us as well as our students, too. I am beside myself with excitement!

I've included a few links about ISNs below mostly for my own benefit. This is just a start.

Interactive Notebooks
ETA - I keep coming back to add links, and I'm realizing what a hassle it's going to be to continue searching out this post as the year progresses. I've added an ISN tab at the top where I'll collect ISN-related links in the future.

Friday, August 9, 2013

First Days: Open House Plans + A Revamped Student Info Sheet

Last year, at Open House and again on the first day of school, the math teachers all gave out Student Info Sheets asking for schedule information, parent contact information, student hobbies, allergy information, etc. We had hoped that these would prove super useful during the school year, but I didn't find myself referring back to them as often as I had planned. And when I did look at them, the information was either illegible or incorrect. Schedules changed, kids moved in with a different parent, etc. Distributing the sheets at Open House also meant that the parents who wanted the forms completed immediately spent too much time in our rooms that night and those who elected to take them home never returned them.

All in all, it was a nice idea that just wasn't executed well.

This year, I'm planning on having multiple sign-in sheets stationed throughout my classroom at Open House. I'll ask for student name, parent name(s), parent phone number(s), and parent email(s) on the sign-in sheet itself. I'll also have information about contacting me by email and phone and enrolling in remind101 posted, but I want this year's Open House to be a meet & greet sprint as opposed to the marathon we had last year.

I do still plan on having students complete a Student Info Sheet. I found a great one posted online by another blogger* and I wound up making only minimal tweaks. I'll distribute it, along with the syllabus, on the first day of school.

* I've scrolled back through the blogs I follow in Feedly and my recent pins, but I can't find the original blogger. If you know who created the student info sheet, please let me know. My whole department loves this sheet, and I would love to give him/her credit!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

(Nearly) Wordless Wednesday

Macy - July 2013

I love this picture. I love that my husband took it. I love that you can just barely see his seersucker swim trunks. And of course, I love that the subject is our sweet Macy. This was taken on Lake Martin, during this year's July 4th "weekend." It was one of the rare sunny days that week, and Macy's life vest can mean only one thing--boat trip!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Back to School: Lunches

In an effort to ease the transition between summertime stay-at-home-mom (OK, SAHM to a pup, but still...) and full-time teacher, I've been thinking this week about lunches. C started a new job a few weeks ago, and I've been testing out a few ideas on him. We'll both be taking our lunches this year as we save, save, save. (Mama wants some walls she's actually allowed to paint!) Below are a few ideas we've tried recently:

Main Dishes

  • Green Salads - Lots of different options, but our current fave is: baby spinach, grape tomatoes, red onion, baby carrots, and sliced cucumber plus either fat-free cottage cheese (for me) or cheddar cheese cubes (for C). We also add chicken. This recipe is super easy and perfect for salads but Tyson chicken strips were recently BOGO at our supermarket so we've been using those cut into bite-sized pieces this week. Love their buffalo chicken. I also add croutons to C's. 
  • Pasta salad - Current fave is a mixture of these two recipes. It's my go-to contribution to warm-weather gatherings, too. It makes a good bit and has a pretty presentation
  • PB&Bs - Peanut butter & banana sandwiches. I prefer these to the standard PB&J. Of course, C needs the J, too. He prefers the peanut butter and (grape, always grape!) jelly mixed together before being spread on the bread. Then just slice the banana lengthwise and pile it on. This is good for times when there's no time as they are quick and we always have the ingredients on hand. 
  • Left Overs -  I rely on these more as the temperatures drop. I love having my mom's hearty potato soup or this creamy tortellini soup waiting on me at midday.


  • Fruit - Lately, strawberries, honeydew melon, cantaloupe, and grapes. 
  • Veggies - Baby carrots, broccoli w/ peppercorn ranch. I send Ina Garten's roasted broccoli sometimes, too. It's best served immediately, but we even like it cold. 
  • Greek Yogurt - This is all me since C is not a huge fan of yogurt. I love Chobani flips in the key lime pie flavor. I've been enjoying Chobani Bites (Coffee w/ Dark Chocolate Chips) for breakfast, too.The fruit-on-the-bottom options are also pretty nice.