Monthly Archives: April 2016

Student Engagement and Closing the Opportunity Gap


As I read Read by Examples post, I am reminded of similar thoughts from the past several weeks.

Christopher Danielson’s statement – Students can. We should let them.


A discussion at the state Teacher Advisory Councile – when we impose our (school/district) goals on students are we empowering them or limiting them?


Knowing our students.

Taking time to have real conversations.

Pursuing passions.

Reading By Example

We hear about the achievement gap, or the word gap, and then we expect public schools to fix these situations. Solutions in the past have included extending the school day, increasing expectations through common standards, and holding schools and educators accountable for student learning through high-stakes tests.


However, these gaps were created before many students even took their first steps through the school doors. Teachers and school leaders become the scapegoats for these societal ills that really demand a larger and more complex conversation as a country. Yet being the people that educators are, they roll up their sleeves and quietly serve not only as teacher but also as counselor, parent, community outreach coordinator, and social worker.

Focusing on gaps creates problems. First, this work takes a deficit-based approach, where students lacking knowledge or skills can be viewed as less than capable than their higher-achieving peers. Subsequently, the students…

View original post 724 more words

Look Out Below!


These last weeks of school can be a bit hectic.  Today was College and Career Fair in our district, some classes were disrupted, so I thought this oldie but goodie was an appropriate way to end our week.

Its a data collection activity shared by Donna Farmer around 2002.  I’ve used it many, many times and just assume like most other stuff I do, it has been used by everyone else as well.  But I’m reminded once again, we should all share – you never know when it may kindle someone else’s development of an idea.

You can scroll to page 10 of this file to find a rough copy, like I said, this is from several years ago!  In past years, I provided students with various articles sharing stories of fallen balconies as a lead to the lesson.  But today, we watched this clip from Inside Edition.  There are several options for clips you could use as an intro.

We read the intro paragraph on the handout, pick up some pennies, rulers and find a flat surface, start stacking and crashing.  Everyone is engaged on these days.

Collect data, scatterplot, analyze, create a model, use your model to make predictions.

The last two questions actually ask students to find the extension length for a given number of pennies.  Three things happen:  1) they incorrectly use the pennies as their exponent, 2) they graph the number of pennies and look for the intersection point,  or 3) they estimate from their data what the length will be and verify it, then adjust accordingly.

I’ll be honest, I am most proud of the 3rd…thinking on their own.  Seeing how this data point relates to their collected data.

One thing I’ve noticed this week as we worked with writing exponential models, students were beginning to use some reasoning to adjust their exponents up or down rather than strictly guess and check.  A couple of discussions with decay – if we need the predicted value to go down, the exponent would go up, vice versa.

Many students were comfortable using decimal exponents.  In years past, I remember students wanting exponents to be whole numbers.  The fact that it doesn’t seem odd to them to have decimal exponents makes me feel like I’m moving in a good direction with them.

I want to create better follow up questions, what if scenarios that could be used as an assessment in a different context possibly.

Anyway, hopefully someone can use / tweak the task and use it for their classroom!

Side note:  I’m wondering how many other tasks I could use pennies for in math class.  Past ideas:

Sample of pennies for a 5-Number Summary of the dates;  Rolls of pennies and weigh use to create a sampling distribution in stats, I use pennies as the weights in spaghetti bridges, I need to take another look at the pennies in a circle task on desmos, what’s the average height of free standing stacks in a class?  Other suggestions are welcomed!

Professional Growth varies with Student Needs and Attitudes


As I was chatting briefly this morning, I thought – my professional growth needs sort of change depending on the students I have in front of me.  I pondered the reading I’ve done over the past 6 years…and how what I was seeking varied, depending on my classroom setting.

When I first participated in Kentucky’s Leadership Network back in 2009/2010ish, I read books they provided us over the three year period.  I was challenged by the reading – productive struggle, if you will – to evaluate my beliefs about learning and teaching.

Product DetailsProduct DetailsProduct Details

Product DetailsProduct DetailsProduct Details

Classroom Assessment for Student Learning, 15 Fixes for Broken Grades, More Good Questions, 75 Practical Formative Assessment Classroom Techniques, Focus in High School Mathematics – Reasoning and Sense Making, Cooperative Learning & Mathematics.

I re-evaluated my purpose of grades and began to explore ways of reporting student learning differently, began having conversations with colleagues about SBG, assessments and student collaboration to strengthen their learning.

I began to explore, looking for books and resources on my own.

Product DetailsProduct DetailsProduct Details

I realized how I needed to “be less helpful.”  For years, I had demonstrated exactly how I wanted them to do the problems – I had stolen their opportunity to learn, rather than using their approaches as a foundation to continue building their understanding.  I began looking for ways to build through literacy strategies, listening to student thinking and reasoning, responding with questions rather than telling them whether they were right/wrong.  “Honors” students were both simpler and more difficult to try these new strategies with.  They thrived at the thinking, yet became frustrated when challenged to articulate their own thinking.  They did not like looking at varied approaches and making sense of them, yet – it expanded their own understanding.

Then I was shifted to Algebra 2 for students who “hated” math class – did not see a use or purpose.  I tried very hard to find ways of providing context to as much of the curriculum as I could.  I looked for structures like Number Talks, Counting Circles, Estimation 180, Visual Patterns, WODB to provide non-threatening opportunities for these students to grow in confidence as they began sharing how they “saw” problems…how they “thought” about them, how they “approached” getting an answer.  But when we would look at traditional approach to Algebra, there was a lot of hand-holding…I felt I had reverted back.

How could I change the culture in my classroom, so students were not afraid to “be wrong” and I wasn’t relying on the same five or six to interact with me, but I was intentionally, including every student everyday?  How could I restructure my lessons, present engaging scenarios that pushed students to think, talk and learn from one another?

Product DetailsProduct DetailsProduct Details

Product DetailsProduct DetailsProduct Details

I see that with many who have struggled, I have to be very purposeful in building that level of comfort – giving them opportunities to make sense, wonder, ask their own questions.  Push but support.  Celebrate not only their successes, but also the small steps they are making toward those goals – reasoning out their mistakes and how to correct them / learn from them.  In education we claim to do this a lot.  But I think we do a lot of telling, “here’s how” rather than allowing them to do their own thinking.

Product DetailsProduct DetailsProduct Details

Product DetailsProduct Details

I wonder if I’ve not compartmentalized the topics so much, there’s a disconnect and students don’t retain.  How can I restructure my lessons, sequencing, practice/HW, quizzes and assessments that will maximize student learning?

I’m constantly questioning what I do, I never want to keep students from reaching their highest level of achievement.  But its a lonely road sometimes.  I see growth in my students, so what I’m doing can’t be completely wrong.  Its so hard sometimes to know what to refine, what to throw out – after all, each year is new, a completely new group of learners…what worked with one group may/may not attain higher results with this one.

Since 2010, I’ve been in 9th grade all Algebra I, 10-12 Honors Geometry, Algebra 2, AP Statistics.  Currently, I am back in Algebra I with APstats.  Next year, I will be Algebra I and 1 class of 12th graders Mathematics for Business and Industry.

Again, I am reminded that different classes of different students have different needs.  I must always be observant, aware and flexible, willing to adjust my sails, learn something new and not be be afraid to try it.



Summer Reading 2016


Yep, its April and I’m already thinking about Summer.  I don’t recall doing a countdown to end of the school year in years past.  I’m not trying to rush away time with my students, I have really grown to like them. A.Lot.

But as I have been reflecting on the year, I keep asking what can I improve and how can I do it?  Here’s a start for my summer reading, though it will likely change.  Any suggestions and recommendations are welcomed.  Would love to hear what others are thinking about reading this summer.

These are books I currently have.  I have watched some of Cathy Humphrey’s lessons and even used some of her ideas.  I feel its imperative to help students talk about their thinking, allow them space to play with their numbers – and build their confidence with numeracy.  I’m curious about the Mathematical Mindsets and Pam Harris’ session last year at KCM made me think, a lot about how can I approach certain topics differently.

Product Details Product Details  Product Details   

And these are on my radar, curious if anyone has read that can make a recommendation:

Product Details

I really enjoyed Make It Stick last summer and feel that I need to process some more in order to really continue making changes in my approach for students to really grow.  Hoping How We Learn will build on my understanding.

Product Details

I am constantly running across tweets and posts from Couros that strike a chord and I want to read more.

Product Details

I grew as a teacher when I read and implemented routines from Making Thinking Visible a few years ago and I want to continue that growth.

Just because reading recommended by a student and a colleague:

Product DetailsProduct Details

Time. 8 Minutes…


I’ve been pondering since Spring Break – why am I just now feeling really connected to my students?  Its bizarre-ishly late in the school year.  When I used to teach on 6-period day, It was early in December/January before I really felt my students trusted me – would take those learning risks I tried to encourage.  So why was it mid-March this year?

We had a debate in our school over scheduling earlier this semester, we have been on a 7-period schedule this year.  One teacher remarked the difference between a 6 and 7 period day was only 8 minutes per class and that we couldn’t gain much with 8 minutes.  But  I feel like my room is a revolving door, kids come in, kids leave, another group comes in, then leaves, etc.  My closing activities have dwindled to a little of nothing.  I am not effectively wrapping up the lessons.

So, I looked at the numbers – 8 minutes a class, 5 days a week, 34 weeks = 1,360 minutes divided by 55 minute class period is 24.7 class periods.  That’s nearly 5 weeks of instructional time.  Whew. No wonder I am so far behind in my units.  We also had 8 non-traditional instructional days – though students were not in the classroom, there were learning tasks completed.  But again, that’s 8 more instructional periods.  So I have missed between 6 and 7 weeks of instructional time with my students.

Wow.  Now, I see why it was mid-March rather than December / January to feel connected and trusted by my students.  I’m just now really able to see their thinking, predict their approach to a problem, getting them to step out on a limb and try – even if they aren’t sure.  Its only been recent weeks that some have gained the courage to ask the questions in their heads…without fear of judgement from classmates.

Sidebar thought – This is not a complaining session, but a reflection on the year so far… I’m not advocating for a 6 period, but grades 10-12 in our building had a modified-block schedule that was the best of both worlds.  Two yearlong periods, with 3 semester blocks. Ninth grade had its own wing and had 5 periods with a single semester block at the end of the day.  The debate was to go to a school wide modified – say 4 year long periods (minis) and 2 semester blocks for lab/hands-on learning/CTE/electives while still having an opportunity for year-long courses for core classes.  However, it was stated our faculty would be perceived as was not wanting to dig-in and do the hard work required on the 7 period.  I respectfully disagreed with this statement, no one in our faculty was trying to get out of work – only trying to find a solution that would support better opportunities for our learners.

How might I adjust for next school year?  What are things I can actively change in my classroom and approach that will allow me to make quicker connections with my learners?  And so now, I begin to think about summer reading, professional growth opportunities…

Knowledge to Action Update #KtA2016


Three months into 2016 and I’m holding myself accountable…where am I in my “Knowledge into Action” challenge?  Reading, Family, Health/Self…


I found a love for reading again, just a few years ago.  I usually have several books going on at once.  Something light to finish the day before I sleep.  Something school-related for challenge and accountability to keep my thinking/planning afresh.  But always trying to read, because its something I feel is important – and I need to model it for my child, my students, my colleagues.

A friend linked me to this challenge by @modernmrsdarcy

Make 2016 your best reading year yet with this reading challenge. It’s simple and doable, but provides the structure you need to approach your reading list with intention in 2016.

I’m not sure that I’ve followed through on each bullet, but here’s my list for 2016, so far:

  • Currently reading, What Papa Told Me, Felice Cohen
    • I am always in awe of the experiences so many have faced in darkness, their perseverance and how they live life on the other side of their journey…
  • Thicker than Blood, CJ Darlington
    • Two sisters, Christy and May, face challenges that different paths in life have brought.   Sometimes the things we fabricate and force our minds to believe are not at all the truth.
  • Shingaling, A Wonder Story, R.J. Palacio
    • The story through Charlotte’s eyes… “Its not enough to be friendly.  You have to be a friend.”
  • The Stain, Harry Kraus
    • A bit bizarre at moments.  I even thought about putting it down, it felt disrespectful to my personal beliefs.  A few times, it lost my interest, but I pushed through and found the end quite intriqueing.
  • Dancing Through Life, Candice Cameron Bure
    • I am a huge DWTS fan and I enjoyed Full House in my younger years.  I appreciate her lessons learned through this experience and getting a view of what the cameras may not have always depicted during DWTS.
  • Still reading, NCTMs Principles to Action Ensuring Mathematical Success for ALL
    • During our online PLCs for our “Snow Days” – our department read/discussed the 8 research based Mathematics Teaching Practices discussed in PtA.  Some great challenges, ideas.  Once again, I am reminded…knowledge is a good thing, but if its not put into practice, its useless. This summer, I plan to finish reading and use it as a guide for my professional growth next school year.
  • Still reading, Embedding Formative Assessment, Wiliam & Leahy
    • I like to read during the school year for accountability and ideas.  However, I get caught up in the everyday tasks and feel overwhelmed because I cannot make needed adjustments quick enough.  This book will also be completed during the summer and guide me in planning for professional growth next school year.
  • Just downloaded to read over Spring Break – To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee.
    • Our 9th graders have just begun this, so I feel it will give me some conversation starters with a few of them in weeks after returning.
  • My 11 year old just shared how much she enjoyed Walk Two Moons, Sharon Creech, in her language arts class at school and suggested I read it.  So it will be next!


Its been a busy and challenging few months.  Being a parent is hard.  I have so much more respect for the job my parents did – how in the world did they survive me?  You hope to raise your child to be independent, hard working.  Yet when they challenge you, its hard not to react at times.  You set boundaries and hope to instill a foundation of respect.  No question, it is the hardest thing I will ever do in this lifetime.

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast at our local theater has come and gone.  Sellout crowds for most nights of this musical.  Wow.  What an experience.  So amazed at the level of talent in our small community.  Just this past week, she auditioned for The Little Mermaid coming up in August!  She’s crazy creative.

Piano – S has taken a whole new level of interest.  She will sit and play for hours.  Its so soothing and enjoyable to listen.  I am grateful she has a love that will allow her to develop her talent.

Percussion / Band – I ran across a list of goals she has written from 6th grade through senior year.  Attainable, yet challenging as well.  Very proud of her and her growth with a new set of instruments.

Travel to visit my brother’s family just east of St. Louis.  Such good, quality time to enjoy them and their boys.  Very proud of the work and service they are doing in their own community.

My husband’s passion for fishing.  Just the other day, we were talking about the time he and his fishing buddy both landed double catches in a single cast on the same outing.  This week, one evening he came in, with a picture…another double catch in a single cast.  No one loves fishing like my guy does.  Grateful he has the opportunity to enjoy it.


At my last vitality check, all numbers are still improving.  Total cholesterol is within a healthy range, but LDL is slightly above where we want it.  Gluocose is at 101…almost there!  BMI, no longer in high risk and I am 5 pounds from my second goal.

Activity level is still not where it needs to be, but with warmer weather finally hear, I intend to change that in the next couple of months.

A good issue is having a “new” wardrobe – lots of fun, spring / summer dresses I’ve not worn for a while.  Bad issue (but good) I’ve surpassed my back-up “small” sized pants/shorts – not a fan of wearing belts to keep my britches up.  Trying to wait a few weeks for some better sales.


And I brought the ukelele home from school…my challenge, to pick it up and learn to play something this next week!