Category Archives: Classroom Ideas

Bonus Session – Teacher Hacks #TMC17


So about 5 minutes before my afternoon session began, I shared some of my favorites…  Just to help me get calm before the actual session began.

Then Anna tweeted


Several asked me to share, so here goes, even a few ideas I didn’t share during the pre-session.


Index card with stop light colors and a paper clip.  Students can keep these in front pocket of their notebook and can use individually during independent practice and/or quizzes, assessments.  As I walk around the room, this can indicate they need me without raising their hand.  Can also use in place of stop light cups during group work if you have small desks, etc.

#makeitstick suggests retrieval practice – basically a flashcard flip book.  Fold piece of card stock in half, can fit 20-26 index cards inside.  GREAT tool for review, just 5 minutes a day, 5 days a week.  If you use this for a year long or semester long review, students can tape a mid-size manilla envelope into back cover of their notebooks to store.

Magnetic Tape – it was around $5 at walmart, not great with heavy items, but for light weight cardstock or smaller items, perfect.  This particular card set was from Kelly Boles Histogram Buckets! And the accountable talk starters from this post.

Re-purposed Containers…

If you have an activity or set of flashcards, consciously make them the size to fit the Extra  clear box.  Also the Ice Breakers Cubes, these boxes are great for dice, paper clips.  And finally the Crystal Light or other drinks flavors – cover the cylinder with favorite paper and store pens, sharpies, etc.

#pocketphone – I learned about this from some of @suMACzanne’s tweets a while back.  Basically you can hit record and carry your phone around in your pocket for about 10 minutes during your class time.  When you play it back, what is it you are looking/listening for?  Are you concerned with questions / types of questions?  Maybe wait time during student interactions?  Maybe giving concise, clear directions?  Transitions between tasks?

Playback, listen.   Jot notes.  How did it go?  Make plans to adjust, improve whatever your goal may be.  Research, ask for help, work on it.  Then in a couple of weeks, #phonepocket again. Compare / Reflect.  Remember, the goal is to improve, not be perfect.

I love this idea (and have used it several times) because it gives me a different view of my classroom.  It’s un-intrusive, because I am the only one to hear it.  No one has to know, not even the students.  But there is a level of accountability.  I cannot ignore what I hear. Also, Hattie suggestions the influence of microteaching has an effect size of .88.


Microfiber Cloths – to erase dry erase markers.  They wipe away any residue.  When they get gunky, take them home, wash, reuse.  You can find them in household or car cleaning sections.  Watch for sales, shop around.  I got 12 pack $3-4.  I previously cut them into quarters and they work fine.  They did not ravel, but I prefer the larger cloths.


Calendar Numbers – 2 sets to create, then laminate a vertical number line.  This one by my door has been around since 2002ish.  I only used -15 to 15.  But you can often see students looking up to it as they are working.

Feel free to share your hacks!

May Day, May Day #MTBoS30 #5pracs


Thursday night, I printed off a packet of handouts from a session I’d led at KCM conference in 2012, simply because there was a data collection activity “Look Out Below!” I wanted to use in class on Friday.  As I flipped through the pages, I was taken back by what I used to do.  And it made me sad.  I walked in Friday morning, straight over to a colleague’s room and asked for accountability these last few weeks of school.

Multiple times the past several months  I have been directed back to 5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Discussions, Smith and Stein 2011. I read the in book even participated in a chat.  The following school year, I implemented a few lessons purposefully using this structure.  I found that the FALs from Mathshell often followed the same format.  It led to great discussions, thinking and sharing in my classroom.  So, what happened?  A rut.  I still used the structure, but not intentionally planning NEW lessons, just recycling the ones I’d become comfortable with.

Last November, I attended an ACT Boot Camp sponsored by@UKPIMSER, one of the strategies shared was the 5 practices!  This winter, we had 8 Non-Traditional Instructional Days in our district- where students / teachers participated in learning tasks during Snow Days.  Our department used NCTMs Principles to Actions book, focusing on the 8 Mathematics Teaching Practices, one of which was promoting whole class discourse, and using Smith & Stein’s outline.  This spring, I have come across several chats mentioning the 5Practices for discourse.

Just today, I read @marybourassa’s post Day 80 Ropes and Systems, that described how she used a chart to track observations and conversations inspired by this book.  I also read @bridgetdunbar’s Teach Math as a Story post as well as watched @gfletchy’s Ignite Talk on becoming an 83%er – one who is asking questions to effectively engage students… We must focus on task planning – better questions (Frank’s hot sauce!) in order to listen to our students rather than for their responses.  (S/O @maxmathforum 2>4 Ignite!).

As soon as I arrived home, I grabbed a box from the shelf to get out my #5pracs for a revisit.  And all these treasures were there with it!20160501_145551.jpg

As I flipped through my book, I found these notes…penned on the last day of summer break, on a final trip to the water park, I’m assuming 2012…reading while my daughter and her friend splashed in the wave pool.

I was preparing for the first few days / unit of Algebra 2…

So, here’s my goal for the #MTBoS30 challenge: to revisit #5pracs and plan a couple of intentional lessons, ask better questions, monitor observations and conversations – maybe even record with my phone in pocket and see if  can accomplish some of the “Try This” Smith & Stein have outlined in their book.

I’m asking for accountability, MTBoS.  Mayday! Mayday!

The title, I thought was fitting, rather than sink these last few weeks – which normally kick my butt, I am determined to finish strong in an effort to leave a great impression with my budding, almost 10th graders – allowing them to see that math is more than just math.

from etymonline:

mayday (interj.) Look up mayday at Dictionary.comdistress call, 1923, apparently an Englished spelling of French m’aider, shortening of venez m’aider “come help me!” But possibly a random coinage with coincidental resemblance:

“May Day” Is Airplane SOS
ENGLISH aviators who use radio telephone transmitting sets on their planes, instead of telegraph sets, have been puzzling over the problem of choosing a distress call for transmission by voice. The letters SOS wouldn’t do, and just plain “help!” was not liked, and so “May Day” was chosen. This was thought particularly fitting since it sounds very much like the French m’aidez, which means “help me.” [“The Wireless Age,” June 1923]


Frustration with Class Attendance #junechallenge 1


I have had so many thoughts running through my mind the past 2 weeks – wanting to put them down, yet trying to get through the final days of school.

I struggle with Algebra 2.  It is frustrating to me – SOOOOO much stuff jammed into one course.  I feel there is simply not enough time to really develop true understanding of many concepts.  I try to pick big ideas – focus on enduring skills –  from our curriculum that best suits our students in Room 123 and search for strategies that will best meet their needs, helping to move them forward.

As I look at these students at the beginning of the school year, three are meeting college readiness.  Several fall within the 10-15 ACT score range and majority in the 15-20 range.  Majority are down on math, do not enjoy it and feel there is “only one way to get THE right answer.”

I recall one particular day in class – a student stating, if you don’t get what the teacher said, they move on without you and you’re stuck, set up to fail.

Our goal: to make it accessible, less painful, allow students room to think on their own, discuss their claims / strategies, test one another’s suggestions and move their thinking forward.




A look at 3 years of EOC results shows improving results.  Is it enough?  Not sure, I’ll need to look at our district projections.

The 4th year is hypothetical – 20% of  students missed the next achievement level by 1 question.  1 question.  This is frustrating to have several that close to moving up another step, yet barely miss the mark.  Yet, we’ll celebrate their growth anyway!

I am concerned about this though because I experienced a high level of frustration the last quarter of school.  Added to weeks of snow days, no spring break to make up some time, it seemed our class attendance was the worst in recent years.  In the last 9 weeks prior to EOC testing, there were 33 days instructional time was interrupted – either by scheduling presentations, other state testing, benchmark testing, college visits, competitions, field trips, field trips.  The day prior to EOC testing, there were eight students on a reward trip.

Don’t get me wrong – student life and involvement is imperative – some of these activities are the only reason a few students even make an effort to be at school.  I would never want to take away these opportunities – they deserve the best.  However, I feel that our instructional time is valid, important and needs to be protected in a sense.

I am not a worksheet kind of person.  So much of what we do in Room 123 is hands-on, small groups and class discussions.  Its impossible to capture those same learning experiences when you’re not there. Trying to continue in-depth discussions and learning tasks was merely impossible.   There was no continuity with 7 students out one day and 6 out the next with a different 8 students out on a third day.    I failed because I gave up.

What if I had kept pushing through?  Maybe those  students would have reached their next level.

I’m not trying to whine – I’m looking for strategies – how others handle these same frustrations.  This summer, I intend to find or outline a resource, update an old class blog – something to provide for those students who are absent for whatever reason.  I’ve tried Edmodo (its okay), Class blog (very few students utilized it).  What about evernote?  One Drive notebooks?

So, how do you handle it when a students asks “What did we do?  What did I miss yesterday?”  How do you fill-in  for in class learning tasks for your absent students?