And One Time at Band Camp…


I had the opportunity this past week to help with alterations for my daughter’s marching band.  It was also the second week of band camp.  As I sat in a back hallway or in the uniform room with an almost closed door, I got to see, well hear actually, former students teach.  

Each on a different path in life, but getting to share their talents as instructors at band camp.

It was obvious they were passionate about what they were teaching.  Three very different students, three very different teachers…  but more alike than different.

1.  They loved their students – they cared about them as people.  And their students knew it.

2.  They loved their content. And their students knew it.

3.  They challenged their students, pushing them just beyond what their students thought they could do.  

4.  They supported and encouraged their students, giving them feedback, direction, and pushing them until they got it right.  Perseverance was both modeled amd instilled.

5.  The analogies they used in their instruction, made the learning feel intuitive.  Constantly connecting it back to something the students already knew.

6.  They recognized when students were on overload.  The story telling for brain breaks allowed a rest to ready them to try again.  

Seeing former students doing something they love reminded me that I still love what I do.  

Looking back, way back… 10 years ago


These past couple of days, I spent some time in my classroom – sorting through old files / purging.  I found there were some things I was sad to run across – wondering – “Why did I give that up?”  Below you will see a cover sheet from nearly 10 years ago of a session I presented in a fall regional conference.

Bell Ringers

A couple of my very favorite bell ringers were Math Dice and Krypto the website in the picture no longer works. I love both of these because they basically review the order of operations without reviewing the order of operations.   There is a level of competition, but also how many different ways can we…  which allows students to keep looking for other solutions.

A quick run down of each – Math Dice, you roll 3 dice and use those 3 digits to create an expression that results in the target determined by rolling the other 2 12-sided dice and multiplying to get the target.  Krypto choosing 5 “cards” 1-26 and students create an expression that results in the target card of 1-26.  I even remember one year having paper crowns from Burger King that the Krypto King/Queen could wear.  It was a great way to get students thinking about numbers.

I shared how we simulated the 2 games with random number generators.

PLAN Practice

Basically we were benchmarking before I had ever heard of benchmarking.  Three times a year our students would take practice plan.  We would look at our entire results and develop a plan to address any concerned areas.  We had a report we sent home to parents after each practice, sharing where students were and what we were doing to help them reach their goals…yep, when I met with my students, I asked them to set their goal for the year.

These gave us a baseline for our 9th graders and allowed us to communicate gap areas with 10th grade teachers, since Kentucky utilized the ePAS system with Explore, PLAN, ACT back then.  And again, 10th grade teachers analzyed those results to help find areas of needed growth before the 11th grade ACT.

Quick Quiz

These 2 question skills quizzes seemed to always be a part of my routine / instruction.  I would typically give them at the end of class, beginning of the next class or while students were independently practicing, I would call them over to my desk individually and have them work a couple of problems for me.  I often mixed students between who I knew was likely having trouble so I could help them catch their misconceptions early on before practicing too much and those who I knew just needed a quick check.


I was ecstatic when I got my first set of clickers.  Ah-mazing!  I will never forget my administrator bringing them in my room apparently another teacher had them and had never even broke the seal on the CDrom.  Heck yeah – I wanted them!  I used them for Daily / HW quizzes.  IF less than 80% of the class were “successful” – I assigned what I called an MP set…More Practice assignment.  4-6 questions short – but hopefully after addressing commonly missed questions, discussing common errors / wrong answer choices, it allowed students to revisit and revise their thinking.  The following day we would have another Daily Quiz and almost always – everyone was where we needed them to be! Formative assessment at its best.


Each student had their name on the card, I could jot quick notes based on student approach / performance, even note days they were absent.  I would try to type in a note on progress reports to reflect student participation.  AND this allowed me to draw names and shuffle during class – calling on every student, everyday.  This was important to me.  I remember once sitting after school one day, looking through my roster.  There was a student who I could not remember interacting with and it bothered me.  I sought out suggestions on how to ensure every student was at least acknowledged every single day.  So important to look them in the eye and let them know you see them and care.

CATS Matrix

Commonwealth Academic (?) Testing System is that what CATS stood for?  I cannot remember, but that is UK’s mascot C-A-T-S!  Anyway, we had a matrix/excel file we could key in student results and it weighted to estimate the student assessment rating.  Once again, we conferenced with students about their performance, discussed areas for growth, revisited some concepts, then reassessed.  Again, asking students to set their own goals.  Well, this was the plan, but as with many initiatives, not everyone follows through.  But for those who did, I observed some strong student growth.

Cool Math

A fun site that had a bit of novelty, but offered immediate feedback on some skills practice.  It was well organized, easy to navigate and with a couple of desktops in the classroom, a great resource to use during station days.

USA Today & Stat Rat

Stat Rat used the USA Today Snapshots to develop the lesson.  We eventually took it a step further, asking students to find their own Snapshots, write a brief summary, but then create questions for their submission.  The attention to detail and informational reading was definitely strengthened through this task.  It was a great resource.


I suppose the purpose of this was me – just reflecting on what I used to do and to realize I wasn’t completely off course.  There were some other tasks inside the presentation packet – maybe I’ll share those another day.

What’s a lesson  / instructional task you have run across recently that is something you used to do?


Looking Back 2016-2017 (Part 2) Class Closure, Verifying Solutions, 3 Things


My original intention with yesterday’s post was to discuss these items, but someone HW / Independent Practice hijacked the post (I have more thoughts to revisit that post soon!).

Class / Lesson Close

As mentioned yesterday, one of my professional growth goals was to improve on lesson and class closure.  I knew I had to become very intentional with it, but how could I hold myself accountable?

As school began, I created daily alarms on my FitBit for 6 minutes prior to the end of each class.  I tried some other times, but the 6 minutes worked best for me – I knew I had 1 minute to wrap up / tie together what we were doing – then allow students to actively reflect on the day / lesson.  I kept the alarms on the entire year – with a brief break when my flex died and I was waiting for my alta to arrive.  I finally deleted the alarms a couple of weeks after the end of the spring semester.

This one simple tool – made such a difference for me.  Yes, there were days – the close did not wrap up as smoothly as I had envisioned, but this is one thing I will definitely continue.  As for the closure tasks I used – anything from an exit slip, a post-it note quiz with stop-light self assessment, reflection on the lesson with choose a sentence to complete: Something I learned…, Something I was reminded of…, Something I realized…; What 2 problems were most challenging?  What questions do you still have?, 2-minute reflection grid, etc.  I will post more ideas on these closure tasks later.

List 3 Things You Notice About the Graph

A habit that began with this task True / False Statements about Graphs, was a win for students.  I continued throughout the semester to have them cover up ANY questions / statements about the given graph and always list at least 3 things they noticed / knew about the graph in a bullet list.  How we shared their noticings varied, but it became automatic for them to jot 3 things in the margins beside any graph prior to jumping in to the question.  Even on the EOC exam, I noticed multiple students jotting things they noticed in the margins, without being instructed to do so.

Verify Your Answer

Years ago, when I used Hands-On Equations System, I found how effective it was for students to substitute their solution back into the equation to check their answer.  Last year, I was reminded of this and I wondered, why / when did I stop doing this?  And I began requiring it again.  Its imperative.  And I continued using it again this past season.

Whether it was a 1-variable equation equation, 2 variable linear equation (x,y) or an inequality statement, students were asked to verify their solution algebraically by substitution.  If nothing else it is a test-tasking strategy they can use on standardized MC tests.  But more importantly, they began to see connections between the equations and comparing the functions related to both sides of the equation.  They began seeing connections with the graphs of those related functions – parallel / same lines with no solutions and identities or the point of intersection.  AND  this extends to all function / equati0n types.

But most importantly, they began supporting their answer with reasoning / evidence of their arrival at a possible solution.  They were verifying their answers – but also that of their peers.

What are some of your non-negotiable structures you have implemented with success in your classroom?

Looking Back 2016-2017 (part 1) Independent Practice


Looking back over the 2016-2017 season.  (T. Kanold referred to the school year as a season…in a recent training).

As I think on the past year, I will admit it was not my best yet. But I did have several areas of growth and also some targets for growth.  I intended this to be a reflection post over the entire year, but it seems it has evolved into a discussion of homework / independent practice…

My professional goal was to be more intentional in lesson / class closure – as not to have the bell ringing, students hurrying out the door as I am yelling do _ #’s on _ page for HW.  As well as trying to be more intentional with assigning independent practice with the idea of lagging.

In two of my classes we utilized Springboard Curriculum.  There was a lot I enjoyed, some things I learned and a few things I will adjust this next season.

For most of the year, I did a fair job of lagging homework in these two sections.  On Thursday / Friday, assignments for the following week were made, based on the lessons we had completed in the current week.  I used the activity practice sets at the end of a lesson provided in the workbook.  This was not the actually mixed practice I was hoping, but springboard does a good job of varied level of questions within their practice sets.  Not too lengthy, some skills, some reasoning, some application/ modeling.  The sets due on Tues – Friday of the following week.

This would allow students to be proactive and work over the weekend, should they have a busy schedule coming up the next week.  When an assignment was due, I would ask them to turn and talk with those in their group, comparing answers.  I walked around the room and made note of those with complete work, also paying attention to the conversations – and allowing me to decide which problems needed some extra attention as a whole class.  I found this structure from @cheesemonkeysf to be quite purposeful.

E shares step 4 as stamping and collecting every two weeks – for what is essentially a 100% effort grade.  Years ago, I used a stamping system.  A dated library stamp, on test days I would collect a crumpled set of assignments, flip through, counting the number of stamps and report a score for homework.

A few years later, I created a “stamp-sheet” on the back of our unit organizer. The front included how big ideas connected back to the unit concept, with a unit schedule, critical vocabulary and our assessment standards.  The back of the page gave students self-assessment skills for focus and an assignment log I included.

IF complete and on time, students received a stamp..IF complete and late, a circled stamp.  As I learned about formative assessment, I attempted to modify the table as a tool for students to track their learning.  Here is an early version of that:

self assessment

I plan to revisit this idea and implement something similar this school year.  I have tried multiple other things in recent years with little success – somewhere along the way, I let students get away with not practicing.  Somehow I need to address HW/practice in the self-assess column with a structure that is efficient and purposeful.


Its imperative for students to get some independent practice.  My intention is to make it purposeful, engaging and non-negotiable.

Dr. Kanold referenced Steve Leinwand’s idea of independent practice as brief,  8-10 problems with 3-5 of  most current, a couple from a previous lesson and finish the set with a spiraling from less current topics / skills.  I attempted this for about 9 weeks in my other classes and then I got “busy” and gave it up-falling back to my “old ways”.  Again, I shall revisit, reflect, refine and re-instate.

I give myself a A-/B+ on the lagging homework, B on giving assignments ahead of time, but need to be more intentional in not allowing students to opt out – I failed that aspect.

I also had 3 other classes not using the Springboard Curriculum that I did a poor job with independent practice outside of class.  I lowered my expectations and failed them miserably here.

So overall a C-.  Some aspects in place but much room for growth.

Self-Care, #5Habits & #HEART! #blogitbingo #MTBoS


My past few weeks have been spent reading and chatting 5 Habits with a close friend.

Just last week, after a two day training with Dr. Kanold and a tweet from Casey, I decided to download HEART! for some reading with travel time on the road.

And this morning, I tried to get a walk in before the rains from storm Cindy set in while listening to Cult of Pedagogy.

Two things from the podcast…

If you want to know what your future life will be like, take a look at your life today. 

 I took this as, if my life right now doesn’t look how I want to see myself in the future, well, there are some choices I need to make.

This went right along with a quote Nicki Koziarz shared in 5 Habits: 

What you want most over what you want now.

And the beginning of our training with Dr. Kanold was about naming our vision and using it as the guide in our decisions.

Many will say, yes, Pam, this is common sense. Maybe. But apparently it’s a message I needed to hear at least 3 times before I actually heard it.  

The other thing that was shared in the podcast:

I dont like to think of myself as busy, but fruitful, productive, accomplished.

I would like to see myself as more efficient, intentional with my time.  

Anyway, just a quick reflection for myself of how 3 different resources are overlapping for me today.

Looking forward to this free webinar from Angela Watson, Teachers You are a Priority too! on June 28.

HEART! has been both convicting and motivating.  I have completed 80% of the book, finished Risk last night and beginning Thought today.  I am very excited to see how I will use what I’ve learned to have an impact on student learning in my school.  

I am sending myself a text for mid-September for accountabity.  Hopefully I will have a positive blog post for follow up.

What reading / resources / training have overlapped for you recently?

Puzzled #myfavorite New Shop #blogitbingo #MTBoS


A recent visit to The Island in Pigeon Forge, TN led me to a fun shop called Puzzled.  Not lying, this one kid exclaimed, Ohhhhhhh, WOW!!! as he walked in. Priceless reaction. 

And no wonder. A 40,000+ piece puzzle on the wall.  

The puzzle selection was wow.  But the games… oh wow.

Amazingly fun to browse, but when they welcome you to play with open games and puzzles.  Well, you gotta play. Right?

I finally had to ask…I was too lazy to read the directions. Celeste was super helpful! Man this gamw was fun and I can see where it would get super challenging!

They had a monster size version, but it was way out of my budget…  

I mentioned I was a teacher and she shared several suggestions of games.  A few of them…I already have/use in my classroom, like the scambled squares.  She shared how to play the IQxoxo seen here, which reminded me of cat stax.

They had lots of Tenzi dice sets. @mathequalslove! We played a round of Slapzi (from the makers of Tenzi) with Phil (I’m sorry- I hope I remembered your name correctly!).  It was great and I can see where it would be a blast with the right combo of people.

Anyway, I had to ise a little math, would I rather buy 3 get 1 free OR % off teacher discount?  “When will I ever use this?” at its very best!

Anyway, I was in Pepper Palace across the way (purchased some yummo Chocolate Habanero hot sauce) and the gentlman mentioned I had been over to Pete’s puzzle shop (my bright yellow shopping tote).  He shared they’d lost a lot in the fire last year in Gatlinburg.   Please visit their site or look them up on Facebook Puzzeled Etc. and support them!  If you cant find what youre looking for, give them a call 865-366-1188.

And they’ve got a great puzzle available to support Heal and Rebuild Project to help the victims of the November 28, 2016 wildfire that devastated over 2400 homes in the Gatlinburg and Sevier County region of Tennessee. 

If you are in East Tennessee, stop in their shop. They were so friendly, genuinely helpful and just plain ol’ fun!

Using In-Class Formative Assessment Effectively #hlta7


Last week, I walked away from Leading and Sustaining a Coherent Vision for Teaching and Learning Mathematics with Dr. Timothy Kanoldthinking, mind overflowing, wondering…how I can I share what I’ve learned with my colleagues to impact student learning?

I had several a-ha’s over the 2 days.  Some were things I *knew* but refined how I saw the big idea.  Every thing we discussed during our sessions, we attempted to tie back to our vision.  The difficulty I had, I wondered if my vision is shared with my colleagues.  If so, I look forward to building on our vision.  If not, what are the ideas we share, that we can agree upon when making future decisions.

The session referencing HLTA7 on Effective Use of In-Class Formative Assessments helped meld several ideas I muddled through in the past 6 years.  Dr. Kanold posed the question:

What is Formative Assessment?  Is it checking for understanding?

Hmmm.  I was a bit baffled.  That’s what I *thought* it was, then I could use it to change my instruction, right?

We were asked to divide our posters into two columns and list all the things we do, tools we use to check for understanding.  Some grand lists were shared!  I even learned of a couple of new tools.

When we are planning and we ask ourselves – how will we know when they know it?  We often list a tool to use to check for understanding…this is what I considered *formative assessment* But it was the next task that pulled it together for me.  We were asked to choose a couple of the CFU tools and describe what action we could use to offer feedback and allow for student action.



Formative Assessment is not the *tool* we use.  Its the follow-up action.  The decisions we make based on the information we now have.

Checking for understanding is at best a diagnostic event, an observation of evidence of student learning that helps you make decisions… In order to be formative, teachers and peers must provide meaningful, formative feedback to each other – then students take action.  The feedback needs 4 markers (Reeves 2011 & Hattie 2012):  Fair, Accurate, Specific, Timely.  FAST.

For years I have focused on finding new ways for FA – I just left the follow-up action up for chance, without actually writing the plan for feedback…my response if they know, my response if they don’t know – would happen when I see the evidence.

Wilham (2007) in order to improve the quality of learning within the system to be formative, feedback needs to contain an implicit or explicit recipe for future action.

I have been studying formative assessment since 2011.  I am STILL LEARNING!

According to Wilham (2011) when formative assessment practices are integrated into classroom activities, substantial increases in student achievement – 70-80% increase in the speed of learning are possible…  the changes are not expensive to produce… there is nothing else remotely affordable that is likely to have such a large effect.

However, if a teacher fails to support the student action on evidence of areas of difficulty, the cycle of learning stops for the student.  I’ve seen it all too often.  Even in my own classroom – learn, assess, but no continued learning follow-up of the assessment.

I will share more in another post about an idea shared by a middle school teacher, a “Pause Day” as part of their follow-up to unit assessments.  No new content is given, but an opportunity for enrichment, adjustment and/or reteaching as needed.  I love the idea of pausing to ensure time for student action.

Popham (2011) even states when teachers use formative assessment well, it can essentially double the speed of student learning producing large gains in student achievement, yet robust so different teachers can use it in diverse ways and get great results.

What ways have you seen formative assessment impact student learning?  What have you learned / adjusted through the years to make it more effective? How do you and your team have the needed conversations about your responses to the evidence provided with the cfu tool?

BTW – I got a button on the last day… for being an example of how we often “steal” students’ opportunities for learning.  I remember reading in Wilham’s Embedded Formative Assessment how we often pick up a student’s pencil and do the problem for them…and when we do, we’ve done the work and the thinking for them.


Showing them / telling them is not a follow up action for them.  If I find myself doing this (& I have many times in the past, thinking I was being helpful) – I can’t just ask – Do you understand?  I must have them show me what they understand with a follow-up action.

If I have learned nothing else in the past 22 years… I’ve realized this – there is no easy button in teaching.